Lawsuit: Silicon Valley Billionaire Recruited Election Officials to Accept Grants from Zuckerberg

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A lawsuit filed by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry in October 2020 alleged that an obscure nonprofit organization operated as part of a larger nonprofit founded and largely funded by Silicon Valley billionaire Pierre Omidyar attempted to recruit local election officials to apply for grants from the Mark Zuckerberg-funded Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL).

Landry filed the lawsuit on behalf of the State of Louisiana against CTCL, New Venture Fund DBA Center for Secure and Modern Elections, Dawn Maisel Cole, a private individual; and Full Circle Strategies LLC, “to prevent the injection of unregulated private money into the Louisiana election system.”

The lawsuit alleged:

  • The New Venture Fund, operating in Louisiana under the trade name Center for Secure and Modern Elections (CSME), partnered with CTCL to solicit applications and information from Louisiana officials in connection with proposed grants [from CTCL as part of the $350 million in grants made nationwide in the 2020 election].
  • CTCL and CSME worked their grant scheme in the State of Louisiana through a lobbyist by the name of Dawn Maisel Cole, owner and operator of Full Circle Strategies, LLC, as their Louisiana representative and agent to target registrars of voters, clerks of court, and local election officials.
  • The scheme targeted 13 parishes, some to receive contributions of more than $500,000, accompanied by a request for detailed information about the operations, conduct and expenses of the registrars/clerk’s office.
  • Ms. Cole directly solicited registrars and clerks of courts to accept contributions from CTCL and New Venture Fund for the operation of their respective offices.

These practices were prohibited, the lawsuit argued, because:

…private contributions to local election officials are unlawful and contrary to the methods for election funding established by law in the State of Louisiana, and such contributions by these defendants should be declared illegal and permanently enjoined.

The lawsuit was significant in part because it highlighted the role an obscure organization called the Center for Secure and Modern Elections, which describes itself as a “fiscally sponsored project of the New Venture Fund,” played in advancing the efforts of the Mark Zuckerberg-funded CTCL in privately funding the administration of the 2020 election.

The New Venture Fund, in turn, is part of Democracy Fund, whose website says it is “an independent and nonpartisan, private foundation that confronts deep-rooted challenges in American democracy while defending against new threats.”

Pierre Omidyar, a Silicon Valley billionaire who founded Ebay, also founded and financially backs Democracy Fund:

Democracy Fund has committed more than $150 million to support a healthy democracy. Established by philanthropist and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar in 2011 and incubated inside Omidyar Network, Democracy Fund launched as an independent foundation in July 2014 and is a part of The Omidyar Group.

Civitas, a well connected public affairs firm founded and staffed by Democrat activists, counts CSME among its clients, but its website is unclear what services it provides the group.

According to the Form 990 Democracy Fund filed for 2019, the organization provided a $275,000 grant to CTCL that year.

As Breitbart News reported:

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.

In late October, a Louisiana judge ruled against Landry and in favor of the defendants, as The Advocate reported:

Judge Lewis Pitman, of the 16th Judicial District in St. Martin Parish, ruled against Landry in the lawsuit last week. Landry said in an interview he would appeal the ruling. . .

In Louisiana, the clerks of court and registrars of voters had applied for around $7.8 million [in CTCL grant money], which the local officials said they would use to help pay for additional costs brought on by the pandemic. That includes equipment, personal protective gear and wages for election workers staffing early voting sites for longer hours.

The local officials have since backed off the grant money and won’t be tapping into the funds before the Nov. 3 election. Early voting is already underway.

According to the CTCL website, not a single Louisiana parish or city ended up with funding from CTCL in the November 2020 election.

But the previously obscured relationship between CTCL and CSME highlighted in the October 2020 lawsuit by Louisiana Attorney General Landry suggests that the relationship between these two groups may have extended to many states beyond Louisiana.

The two groups, for instance, delivered a joint presentation on election administration issues in January 2019. Scott Seeborg, the CSME contact in that January 2019 presentation, was hired in April 2020 as the Pennsylvania State Director for All Voting is Local, a non-profit whose mission statement says, “We fight to dismantle barriers to the ballot well before the next election, so that every voter can cast a ballot that counts.”

According to its website,  “All Voting is Local Action is a campaign of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. We fight for the right to vote in eight states with distinct assaults on the right to vote.”

Those eight states are Georgia, Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Michigan.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights website states:

The Leadership Conference’s founders came together in 1950 out of the belief that the fight for civil rights could not be won by one group alone, but needed to be waged in coalition.

Our members — which have grown from 30 civil and human rights organizations at our founding to more than 200 today — differ in size, scope, and structure. But what transcends our differences and unites The Leadership Conference coalition is our enduring common purpose: full equality for all.

That common purpose gave our leaders the wisdom to see that civil rights are women’s rights and LGBTQ rights and immigrant rights and workers’ rights and disability rights and human rights. That common purpose is our coalition’s inheritance. It is a living legacy that binds us together — in cause and community.

According to the website of the Leadership Conference Education Fund, “All Voting Is Local [is] housed within Access Democracy, an incubated project of The Leadership Conference Education Fund, [and] fights to protect and expand the right to vote for every American.”

In future stories, Breitbart News will explore the relationship between CTCL, CSME, and All Voting is Local in key battleground states of the 2020 election, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona.

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