(The Center Square) – A Louisiana appeals court has sided with Attorney General Jeff Landry on the legality of private funding for state elections, reversing a lower court ruling that allowed the grants.
The Louisiana Court of Appeal last week overturned a lower court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit from Attorney General Jeff Landry challenging private election funding from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), a nonprofit controlled by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the 2020 election.
“Our law is clear: no individual, including Mark Zuckerberg, should supersede the people’s elected representatives,” Landry said. “Our elections should never be for sale; private money should not fund our elections.”
Zuckerberg funded about $400 million in grants through CTCL to 2,500 election offices nationwide during the 2020 election to fund a variety of work and equipment, including protective gear for poll workers, public education campaigns on new voting methods, voting equipment, drop boxes and additional manpower, among other expenses.
The money sparked backlash from Republicans who pointed out that most of the grants were targeted to Democrat-leaning districts, while Democrats generally defended the spending as essential to carry out the election amid added burdens tied to the pandemic.
In Louisiana, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin initially invited local election officials to apply for about $7.8 million in CTCL grants, but Landry deemed the funding illegal and Ardoin reversed course. Landry filed a lawsuit in October 2020 citing the “corrosive influence of outside money on Louisiana election officials,” but District Court judge Lewis Pitman ruled state law does not prohibit the funding and dismissed the lawsuit.
Landry argued at the time Pitman was “a little confused” about the law and appealed, and a three-judge panel with the Third Circuit Court of Appeal agreed with that assessment.
The court found the trial court errored in considering registrars of voters and court clerks as “political subdivisions,” when in reality they’re constitutional offices created by the state. As such, registrars and clerks are funded solely by the state, and cannot accept private donations in the same way as political subdivisions.
The appellate court ruled the trial court conclusion was “legally incorrect” and that Landry “has stated a course of action to protect an interest of the state by preventing the funding of elections with private money.”
The court remanded the case back to the trial court to reconsider.
“I applaud the great work done by my Assistant Attorneys General Jeffrey Wale, Carey Jones, Jeddie Smith, and Ryan Montegut,” Landry said. “My office and I will continue to defend Louisiana’s election system against improper influence.”
Efforts to investigate and prevent the so-called “Zuckerbucks” in future elections are ongoing in several states, including Louisiana.
State Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, revived a bill that was approved by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. John Bel Edwards during the last legislative session to explicitly prohibit the use of private funds to pay election-related expenses.
Miguez reintroduced the bill as House Bill 811 in the current legislative session and it’s now pending in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee.