ANALYSIS: Private Grants to Wisconsin Municipalities Boosted Turnout for Joe Biden in 2020

Statistical analysis finds CTCL funds increased voter turnout for Joe Biden by an average of 41 votes per municipality

The News: A new report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) documents and analyzes the impact of private election administration grants to Wisconsin municipalities on the 2020 presidential election. More than 86% of the $10 million from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), funded in part by Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, went to five Wisconsin cities. A statistical analysis of all CTCL grants finds the private money served to increase voter turnout for Joe Biden, but not Donald Trump.

The Quote: WILL Research Director, Will Flanders, said, “This analysis provides convincing evidence that the CTCL grants played a role in increasing turnout for Joe Biden in 2020. Wisconsin lawmakers should act to ensure local election administration isn’t captured by private money seeking partisan advantage.”

Diving Deeper: In July 2020, CTCL announced that it would be donating $6.3 million to five Wisconsin cities – Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, and Racine. That number would grow to $8.8 million for those five cities, while another $1.5 million was allocated to more than 190 Wisconsin municipalities. While the COVID-19 pandemic may have served as the impetus for private grants to fund local election administration in Wisconsin, an analysis of the impact of the grants reveals a partisan advantage.

  • Wisconsin Municipalities Received Over $10 million from CTCL. WILL received records from 196 communities that received a total $10.3 million in funding from CTCL. The grants ranged from a high of $3.4 million for the City of Milwaukee to $2,212 in the Town of Mountain in Oconto County.
  • Five Wisconsin Cities Received 86% of All CTCL Grant Funds. The five largest cities in the state (Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, and Racine) received nearly $8.8 million in CTCL grant funds.
  • A Statistical Analysis Finds CTCL Spending Increased Turnout for Joe Biden. Areas of the state that received CTCL grants saw statistically significant increases in turnout for Joe Biden – 41 more votes, on average. CTCL spending did not result in statistically significant increases in turnout for Donald Trump.

Reform Proposal: Money in politics isn’t new. But private grants from non-partisan, but clearly ideological, organizations going into the coffers of municipal election administrators does represent a new frontier. By dumping large sums of money into strategically selected municipalities, groups seeking partisan advantage could, in effect, enlist local election administrators into get-out-the-vote operations that serve to help one candidate over another.

Legislation from Senator Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) and Representative Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee) would not ban private grants to municipalities but would require the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) to distribute private money equitably around the state. This is a sensible solution.

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