After left-wing nonprofits poured tens of millions of dollars into their state during the 2020 election to change election operations to benefit Democrats, Georgia Republicans passed legislation in an attempt to prevent such malfeasance from happening again. Now, those same dark money groups are back to replicate their 2020 strategy for the 2024 contest and test the integrity of Georgia’s elections.
Earlier this month, DeKalb County, one of the state’s most populous localities and a Democrat stronghold, announced it had been selected to join the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence and that the county’s commissioners had accepted a $2 million grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL). Launched last year, the Alliance is an $80 million venture by left-wing nonprofits to “systematically influence every aspect of election administration” and advance Democrat-backed voting policies in local election offices.
Despite Georgia law (SB 202) prohibiting election superintendents or boards of registrars from directly accepting “funding, grants, or gifts” from private entities, DeKalb County election officials have found a way to skirt such provisions to acquire the Alliance’s funding.
In her remarks to Decaturish.com, a local Georgia news outlet, DeKalb Board of Registration and Elections Chair Dele Lowman Smith, a Democrat, admitted the application process for the Alliance grant was spearheaded by DeKalb’s finance department instead of the board of elections. According to Lowman Smith, this was done “since election offices are not allowed to receive grants directly.”
A copy of DeKalb’s Alliance grant application obtained by The Federalist confirms the county’s finance department spearheaded efforts to acquire the grant.
“In [Lowman Smith’s] own words, she’s acknowledging that they’re going to violate the spirit of SB 202,” Marci McCarthy, who serves as chair of the DeKalb County Republican Party, told The Federalist. “They’re bypassing an open bids process. So, if I have a similar set of services or goods to offer [DeKalb’s election office] as a business owner … [I would have] no opportunity to participate in the bidding process.”
During the 2020 election, groups like CTCL received hundreds of millions of dollars from Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. These “Zuckbucks” were poured into local election offices in battleground states around the country to change how elections were administered, such as by expanding unsecure election protocols like mail-in voting and the use of ballot drop boxes. To make matters worse, the grants were heavily skewed towards Democrat-majority counties, essentially making it a massive Democrat get-out-the-vote operation.
Much like what happened in 2020, the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence — of which CTCL is a key partner — is attempting to replicate such a strategy ahead of the 2024 elections. In a recent report, the Honest Elections Project and the John Locke Foundation revealed how the Alliance seeks to skirt existing “Zuckbucks” bans or restrictions passed by 24 states by providing election offices “scholarships” to cover membership costs. These scholarships are then “instantly converted into ‘credits’ that member offices can use to buy services from CTCL and other Alliance partners.”
In an Alliance application, applicants are asked to fill out a series of questions, such as “How would you like to get involved [with the Alliance]?” and “How does your office currently learn from other election offices?” The more conspicuous aspect of the document, however, is the “Recommendations” section, where applicants are given the option to “nominate” other local election offices to become potential Alliance members. In DeKalb’s application — which was filed in May 2022 — the county’s deputy finance director, Preston Stephens, recommends Clayton County, a neighboring locality that Joe Biden won in 2020 by 70 points.
GOP Questions About DeKalb’s Alliance Application
DeKalb County officials’ willingness to violate the spirit of Georgia’s “Zuckbucks” ban isn’t just raising concerns among election integrity groups. In a series of emails provided to The Federalist by McCarthy, one of DeKalb’s Republican election board members, Nancy Jester, is documented seeking out the county’s Alliance grant application, indicating that Jester was never provided the document prior to the election board’s announcement of the award.
“Can you send me the grant application that DeKalb submitted for the grant that was discussed in our last Board meeting?” Jester wrote in a Feb. 6 email to Keisha Smith, the executive director of DeKalb’s election board. “I believe it’s the program called ‘U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence’ sponsored by the Center for Tech and Civic Life.”
In a follow-up email sent the next day, Jester asked Smith to provide her with the “last version” of the application she “or the election’s office saw or worked on regarding the grant that was eventually awarded.”
After receiving the requested document from Smith, Jester forwarded it to McCarthy on Feb. 9, noting how it “doesn’t look like an application.”
“It’s very strange to me,” Jester added.
Jester’s Republican colleague and fellow board member Anthony Lewis also appeared to have questions surrounding DeKalb’s grant application, asking Smith “for clarification of the grant application process” at the election board’s January meeting.
Neither Jester nor Lewis responded to The Federalist’s request for comment on how much information they were provided about DeKalb’s acceptance of the Alliance grant before it was announced to the public.
Legal Action Against DeKalb
In light of their bid to skirt Georgia’s “Zuckbucks” ban, DeKalb County officials are facing legal action over their decision to accept the $2 million grant from the Alliance.
Last week, the group known as Restoring Integrity and Trust in Elections (RITE) filed a legal complaint against DeKalb County with Georgia’s state election board, arguing the county’s evasion of the provisions in SB 202 “undermines democratic self-governance as reflected in Georgia’s duly enacted laws and erodes public trust and confidence in our elections.”
“Notwithstanding that the law expressly prohibits the [DeKalb] County [Election] Board from accepting such funds from a private source, the County Board is proceeding forward under the pretense that the transactions were legal because the funds are not traveling directly from the Alliance to the County Board,” the complaint reads. “This is a cynical argument in service of a clear attempt to circumvent the General Assembly’s mandate. … It is patently unlawful, and it cannot be allowed to succeed.”
As a resolution, RITE is asking the state election board to use its subpoena power or authorize the Georgia secretary of state to investigate potential violations of state law. If such alleged violations are found, RITE further requests the board to “exercise its powers … to require [DeKalb County] and the [DeKalb Election] Board to immediately ‘cease and desist from committing further violations’ (which would include not spending the grant money and terminating the contract with CTCL) and impose appropriate sanctions.”
Solution to the Problem
According to McCarthy, the best solution to combat DeKalb’s acceptance of “Zuckbucks 2.0” is for the state legislature to pass legislation tightening the language of the provisions in SB 202.
“When you’re reading the law, you’re going to read the law as it’s specified. That’s what judges do,” McCarthy said. “The language needs to be amended to ensure that there’s not an ability [among counties] to accept any type of [private funding] from any source.”
While no Georgia Republican legislator has introduced a bill specifically addressing this issue, McCarthy told The Federalist that a Senate committee will hold a hearing on Thursday, where it is expected language closing the “Zuckbucks 2.0” loophole will be included in a proposed elections bill (SB 122).
If what happened in 2020 “happens again in 2024, shame on all of us for not paying attention and thinking this problem, this cancer, is just going to be wiped under the skin,” McCarthy said.