Louisiana Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry made the right call in preserving unbiased election administration in the state, and the Legislature and Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards should follow up.
Last month, Facebook announced its chief would create a grant system that would shuttle $250 million of Mark Zuckerberg’s and his wife’s donated money to local elections officials ostensibly to aid in the conduct of fall elections. This could provide funds for things like paying commissioners, buying protective equipment in light of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, and increasing voting by mail capacity. They said they would give away another $50 million to statewide elections administrators.
These officials had complained about Facebook’s conduct about the time of announcement of the $300 million effort. It had decided to ban “political” ads a week out from the elections, but that includes alerts from officials concerning last minute administrative changes which could ameliorate confusion.
Whether put out as a balancing tool, some states reacted positively to the offer, including initially Louisiana. Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin encouraged local elections officials, which his office oversees through parish clerks of court, to apply.
However, Landry took a more critical view when faced with the realities of Louisiana law. R.S. 1400.2 states clearly that for many of the kinds of things envisioned in the grants these “shall be paid by the state from funds appropriated to the secretary of state for that purpose,” except for local-only ballot propositions where the state splits costs with the local authority. This makes any other source of funding illegal. Appropriately, he warned off Ardoin and clerks from this and asked for a legal judgment against it.
The law does well to prevent this, and this incident exemplifies that wisdom. The Zuckerbergs handed over their dough intended for local authorities to the Center for Tech and Civic Life. This favorite among technology titans has a history of advocating for leftist voting policies reflected in elections administration and receiving it funding from large donors for liberal causes. It has an incestuous relationship with Facebook in supplying ballot data to it. Given that background, it’s not hard to imagine that the organization would award differentially on the basis of means employed and where that could prove most helpful to Democrats and other leftists to harvest votes for the candidates they support, thereby influencing election outcomes.
(It would help if Louisiana’s mainstream media practiced journalism rather than stenography on this issue. An Associated Press report on this echoed a Democrat legislator’s assertion that the argument was over “a narrowly tailored grant from a nonpartisan group,” without critical examination of that statement.)
Perhaps the other pot on money – going to the more ideologically-neutral Center for Election Innovation and Research – might be worth accessing to cover expenses through distribution by Ardoin’s office as the law intends, but the law also requires it would have to go through the appropriations process that seems unlikely to occur prior to the election. A bill working its way through the current special legislative session would go further.
HB 59 by state Rep. Blake Miguez would prohibit any gift for this purpose to any elected official’s agency during periods of emergency, clarifying existing statute which is what Landry wants the courts to do. Yet even this doesn’t batten down all of the ethical hatches, as the ban should apply to elections regardless of declared emergencies because the possibility of corruption through his channel exists for elections under any circumstances.
A bill like this merits legislative passage and Edwards’ signature to take a serious approach in safeguarding election integrity.