The administration of elections should never, ever fall under the control of “dark money” groups with hidden agendas from outside Pennsylvania. That is why the PA Senate took bipartisan action last week — with an overwhelming vote of 37-12 — to strengthen the integrity of our elections.
In the months leading up to the 2020 election, news bubbled up of privately funded grants being awarded to certain counties across the state to support the administration of the election from the Center for Tech and Civic Life. These grants are commonly referred to as “Zuckerbucks,” due to the foundation of Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan donating over $350 million which was awarded to local election administrators in 49 different states.
In total, over $22.5 million was awarded to various counties across Pennsylvania. Interestingly, counties that tended to vote for Democratic candidates received much more funding per voter than counties that tended to vote for Republican candidates. For example, Philadelphia County received $8.83 per registered voter, while rural Venango County received just $0.64.
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Emails obtained through Right-to-Know requests were presented at a hearing of the Senate State Government Committee, which I chair. The emails show a concerted effort between officials working in Governor Wolf’s office and left-wing lobbyists with ties to dark money groups to guide these grants to counties that lean Democratic in voter registration.
This dark money funding could set a terrible precedent for future elections in Pennsylvania. It’s not hard to see how this could spiral into a political proxy war in which funding is funneled into certain counties or regions to increase voter turnout.
To ban all future private funding of elections once and for all, Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) and Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) introduced Senate Bill 982. This bill received strong bipartisan support in the Senate, securing the votes of all 28 Republicans, our one Independent, and eight of the 20 Democrats. It’s clear why this issue cuts across partisan lines: dark money being funneled into our elections raises the specter of shadowy actors with big pocketbooks exerting their influence.
This bill received strong bipartisan support in the Senate, securing the votes of all 28 Republicans, our one Independent, and eight of the 20 Democrats.
The State House is likely to support this legislation, as well. Then, the issue moves to the Governor.
If Governor Wolf vetoes this bill — he’s made it abundantly clear he does not want to work in a bipartisan manner on a variety of issues and has issued more vetoes than any PA Governor since the 1970s — we will have the two-thirds vote margin to overturn his veto. If all Senators vote on the override the same way they voted on the bill itself, this bill will become law without the Governor’s signature. That’s how important this issue is to us.
At a time when trust in our elections is shockingly low, this major step will begin the process of restoring the faith of all Pennsylvanians in our elections — with or without Governor Wolf’s signature.
Senator Dave Argall represents Pennsylvania’s 29th District, including parts of Berks County and Schuylkill County.