South Dakota’s governor on March 16 signed legislation into law that bans government entities from accepting outside funding to run elections.

Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, said the bill was necessary because of how Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife donated some $350 million ahead of the 2020 election to various organizations, which funneled the money to state and local officials to run the election in certain ways.

Wisconsin Special Counsel Michael Gableman asserted in a recent report that what unfolded in his state amounted to “election bribery” because cities that accepted the grants were forced to abide by conditions set by the grantee, an intermediary for Zuckerberg’s money called the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL).

South Dakota Senate Bill 122 takes aim at such outside spending, mandating all costs relating to an election be paid by the county through appropriated funds that come only from the government, except for gifts of a “nominal and intrinsic value.”

The legislation bans “situations like we saw with ‘Zuck Bucks’ that came in, and a billionaire gave millions of dollars into our election system, which we believe tainted the integrity of it,” Noem said after signing the bill.

“In South Dakota, we recognize the important work of protecting our election laws, that we don’t want outside private dollars influencing that, and it’s incredibly important that we pass laws like this to make sure that’s upheld,” she added.

Counties in South Dakota received over $250,000 from CTCL “to support the safe administration of public elections during the COVID-19 pandemic” ahead of the 2020 election, according to a tax filing.

Zuckerberg didn’t respond to a request for comment sent to his charity. The center hasn’t reacted to Gableman’s report or the South Dakota legislation.

The bill was passed by the state Senate 32–3, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats voting against. The South Dakota House approved the bill 68–2, with Democrats voting yes but two Republicans, state Reps. Steve Haugaard and Tina Mulally voting no.

Rep. Claudia Tenner (R-N.Y.) has proposed an End Zuckerbucks Act, which would prevent nonprofits from directly funding election agencies, though it’s unlikely to gain traction unless Republicans gain control of either or both chambers of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.

Tenney’s analysis of CTCL donations found only 10 percent of the funding went to right-leaning counties.

“The group gave overwhelmingly to Democrat-leaning counties to drive up voter turnout there. This provided Democrats with a clear advantage over Republicans, and now we have the evidence to show the extent of this partisan exercise,” Tenney said in a recent statement.


Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.

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