Greetings from the state capitol! Have you ever thought about how our elections are funded? Through the legislative appropriations process, right? Did you know that in the 2020 election cycle, a large non-profit funneled over $400M into almost 2,500 local election offices, including almost $2.8M in 43 Oklahoma counties, to help mitigate the spread of COVID during our election cycle? Pretty good idea, right? Well, no. Here is why.

According to the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), a well-known, progressive, politically active, “misinformation-moderating” social media baron billionaire, washed money through his own charity, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, on to the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), another non-profit that happens to be run by a former fellow for the Obama Foundation.

CITL then distributed the money, around $400M from Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife alone, via “COVID-19 response grants”, to local election officials and offices. While supposedly to be used for the purchase of PPE, and other measures to safeguard elections from COVID, the money didn’t exactly get used that way. Nor was it distributed evenly.

According to CITL’s own reports and a sampling of freedom of information (FOI) requests for Oklahoma, FGA reports that only about 10% of those funds were spent on COVID protections, including monies spent in 2021, well after the election concluded. The rest went into paying poll workers, absentee voting, and other purchases.

Furthermore, and this should really get some attention, funds spent in Oklahoma counties with more registered Democrats averaged about $5.80/registered voter; in counties with more registered Republicans, it was $1.42/registered voter.

That disparity alone should be more than eyebrow-raising, and should concern voters of all political persuasions. What if the tables were reversed, and the donations came from well-known, politically active, conservative billionaires like the Koch brothers? Same issue, right?

In Wisconsin, a Special Counsel for the legislature, a former Supreme Court Justice, has investigated this practice in their state, and filed his second special report, detailing findings that, if they don’t lead to formal charges, at least expose some shenanigans.

For example, he details nursing homes in the five most populous counties where 100% of the residents voted, many of whom had been declared incompetent. One man’s great get-out-the-vote effort might be another’s election fraud. In Green Bay, only 0.8% of the money was spent on COVID, but somehow, two new Ford F550 trucks got bought and a PR firm was paid $150k for voter outreach.

I think the opportunity for outside influence peddling was probably pretty high. Just imagine, “Hey, let me bring in some folks to help you count the absentee ballots!”

I point to Wisconsin because it is an important swing state in presidential elections, but there are others. In Pennsylvania, 92% of the money was spent in counties that voted for Biden. In Georgia, the per-voter spending in Democrat strongholds was four times that of those in Republican areas. In Missouri, it was 40% more. You get the point.

There were other issues in other states as well, particularly around absentee and mail-in ballots (two very different things), “found” ballots, and extra-legal extended voting hours and days. Reasonable people expect our own election processes to ensure all, and only, registered voters can vote, and that all their votes are securely cast and accurately counted. Election security shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Now, there is no evidence that the funds were misused in Oklahoma, but when our attention is captured by election problems in other states, it is natural to wonder if Oklahoma’s are vulnerable. That is the reason why so many election law bills were filed this session.

I question the motivations of someone mixing advocacy with election administration, and am running House Bill 3046, which would prohibit all public and election officials from accepting private funds for the administration of Oklahoma’s state and local elections.

Clever people will use any legal means to influence elections, often in ways we don’t anticipate. Prudence would suggest we take steps to prevent anything that causes mistrust in our elections. At the end of the day, isn’t that the real issue, the diminishing lack of trust in so many of our institutions, agencies, and leaders? Free and fair elections require public trust in the process, and we have an obligation to ensure private, out-of-state money stays away from our process. The bill easily passed in the House and is ready for Senate consideration.

As always, please drop by the office if you happen to be in Oklahoma City. You can call my office at 405-557-7380, or write to me at Representative Mark Lepak, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd, Rm. 453.2, State Capitol Building, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105.

Mark Lepak is the District 9 Representative in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

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