The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) filed a complaint on Wednesday that, if granted by the court, would require the Palm Beach County, Florida, supervisor of elections to return an estimated $1.3 million in unspent funds from a grant the county received from the Mark Zuckerberg-funded Center for Technology in Civic Life (CTCL) in October 2020. Minutes before the complaint was filed, Supervisor of Elections Wendy Link claimed in a letter to PILF she has “no legal obligation to immediately return outstanding funds to the CTCL.”
Link made this claim despite the signing into law this month of Senate Bill 90 by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL).
That law specifically states, “No agency or state or local official responsible for conducting elections, including, but not limited to, a supervisor of elections, may solicit, accept, use, or dispose of any donation in the form of money, grants, property, or personal services from an individual or a nongovernmental entity for the purpose of funding election-related expenses or voter education, voter outreach, or registration programs.” (Fla. Stat. Ann.§ 97.0291.)
In a statement released on Wednesday, PILF said:
Today, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, on behalf of its client, filed a request for Writ of Mandamus directing the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections, Wendy Link to return the over $1.3 million remaining from the over 6 million dollars that it received from the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL). Following the signing of Senate Bill 90, Zuckbucks and other private funds are prohibited from use in the administering of elections in Florida.
According to the amended complaint filed on Thursday, PILF’s client is Jan Tyler, “a resident of Florida.”
In September 2020, our office received a grant award from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (“CTCL”). The January 2021 report referenced in your correspondence does not reflect the total amount of grant money spent, but rather the amount of grant money expended as of that date. The next reporting deadline is at the end of June 2021, and will reflect expenditures from January to May 6, 2021. As of May 6, 2021, our office had not used the entirety of said grant money. The remaining funds remain in a trust account, held separate from other funds, as we await further direction from the Florida Department of State, Division of Elections and the CTCL.
On May 6, 2021, Governor Ron Desantis signed Senate Bill 90, enacting into law a provision prohibiting the Supervisor of Elections from “solicit[ing], accept[ing], us[ing], or dispos[ing] of any donation in the form of money, grants, property, or personal services from an individual or a nongovernmental entity for the purpose of funding election-related expenses or voter education, voter outreach, or registration programs.” Fla. Stat. Ann.§ 97.0291.
The Supervisor of Elections has no legal obligation to immediately return outstanding funds to the CTCL. As previously stated, the funds in question remain separate from all others and will not be accessed until the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Election receives guidance from Department of State and the CTCL. [Emphasis added]
In the amended complaint, PILF noted, “At 11:33 AM EST an email was sent to Petitioner’s counsel from Ashley Houlihan on behalf of the Respondent. This email arrived while Petitioner’s counsel was uploading the mandamus documents for filing, which was received by the Court at 11:41:09 AM EST. Respondent’s letter is attached as Exhibit E.”
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.
“[O]n 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,” Breitbart News reported.
According to that report, Palm Beach County received a grant of $6.8 million from CTCL, of which $1.3 million has not been spent.