Public Interest Legal Foundation Calls on 3 Florida Counties to Return $2.1 Million to Zuckerberg-Funded CTCL

Mark Zuckerberg speaks to Congress
Chip Somodevilla/Getty

The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) on Tuesday called for three Florida counties to return $2.1 million in unspent funds from grants received in 2020 from the Mark Zuckerberg-funded Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL).

PILF Litigation Counsel Maureen Riordan wrote in separate letters emailed to election supervisors in three Florida counties on Tuesday (Palm Beach, Alachua, and Leon):

Our client is demanding that your office immediately return all unspent CTCL funds to CTCL, a nongovernmental organization by 11:59 pm local time Thursday, May 20, 2021. Records demonstrating that a wire transfer or other financial transaction was initiated before the deadline will resolve our client’s demand.

PILF is asking the three counties to return a total of more than $2.1 million of unused 2020 CTCL grant funding to CTCL, a little more than $1.3 million to be returned by Palm Beach County, a little more than $203,000 to be returned by Alachua County, and a little more than $664,000 to be returned by Leon County.

PILF Litigation Counsel Riordan outlined the legal argument requiring the return of the funds in her letters to the three counties:

On May 6, 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 90, which amended various sections of Florida’s Election Code which, in part, marked a “prohibition on the use of private funds for election-related expenses.” Current law does not allow a supervisor of elections to “use” any donation in the form of money or “grants” from individuals or a “nongovernmental entity” like the CTCL for the purposes of “funding election-related expenses”. Therefore, the remaining unspent funds which you reported in February 2021 may no longer be used by your office, and to do so would violate current election law.

Florida enacted, “a law prohibiting the private funding of election administration . . . after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) signed a comprehensive election integrity bill into law with a clear and enforceable ban on the controversial practice,” on May 6, as Breitbart News reported.

As Breitbart News reported in April:

Private funding of election administration was virtually unknown in the American political system until the 2020 presidential election, when Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan donated $350 million to the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL), which provided funding to county and municipal governments around the country for election administration, and $69 million to the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), which provided funding to 23 state governments, primarily through the Secretary of State’s office, also for the funding of election administration.

Last week on May 12, PILF released a research brief that showed more than $4.6 million of the $16.4 million given to 11 Florida counties in grants provided between September 30, 2020 and October 22, 2020 from CTCL remains unspent.

          CTCL Grants Provided to Florida Counties in 2020
County                        Grant                      Amount Unspent as of May 2021
                                   (in thousands of dollars)
Palm Beach                 6,808                                                  1,346
Hillsborough               2,932                                                         0
Miami-Dade                2,482                                                   2,482
Leon                              1,437                                                       664
Brevard                           850                                                         60
Broward                           749                                                          0
Alachua                            707                                                      203
Lake                                   195                                                         0
Hernando                         111                                                       27
Osceola                             109                                                         0
Wakulla                              69                                                         2
TOTAL                  16,456                                                 4,643
Source: Public Interest Legal Foundation

In the statement accompanying the release of the May 12 research brief, PILF noted:

Unlike other states, Florida records show a pattern of the late-arriving grants being shoved into digital media outreach campaigns, namely to the benefit of Facebook and Google ad sales departments. In detailed spending accounts disclosed to PILF, Palm Beach County promised to spend $250,000 on digital ads with Facebook, Google, and YouTube if granted the money per its “Safe Voting Plan.”

“Florida lawmakers were right to close the loophole in election law,” stated PILF President J. Christian Adams. “Corporate-funded elections violate some of the most basic principles of election integrity. It’s the job of local governments to budget for and administer our voting processes. I commend Governor DeSantis and all involved in helping to make Florida a leader against this threat.”

Thanks to the Governor’s leadership, Zuckbucks and other private funds can no longer be spent on election related expenses,” Public Interest Legal Foundation President Christian J. Adams said in a statement released on Tuesday.

“We are taking action to ensure these counties give the unspent money back to the CTCL and do not use it to influence elections in 2022. If the money is not returned, the Foundation will take legal action,” Adams added.


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