News Story

Senate bill would ban ‘Zuckerbucks’ from Michigan elections

Outside funds for election clerks have been called a ‘corrupting influence’

Michigan Senate Bill 1069 never mentions Mark Zuckerberg, “Zuckerbucks,” or the 2020 election by name. The two-page bill merely bans outside funding for Michigan elections. But it takes aim at the large donations Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and others made to election officials prior to the last presidential vote. 

SB 1069, introduced by Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, declares: “A person shall not, either directly or indirectly, give, lend, or promise any money or other consideration to the secretary of state, a county, city, township, or village, or any election official in this state to influence, either directly or indirectly, the electors to vote in person or by absent voter ballot.”

The penalties for individual transgressors convicted of knowingly violating the law include up to 5 years in prison and/or a $1,000 fine. Entities found guilty could face up to $100,000 in fines.

Johnson, a former Michigan secretary of state, had expressed public concerns about election security well before the 2020 election.

In a July 2020 Detroit News op-ed, Johnson criticized Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson for using $4.5 million in COVID-19 relief money to mail out 7 million absentee ballot applications.

“We have many examples where these applications were sent to people who are dead, moved out of the state, or are non-citizens,” Johnson wrote. “This money should have been used to get more high-speed counters, personal protective equipment and other supplies for local clerks running our elections.”

Since November 2020, the role of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and his nonprofit donations to elections clerks across America – called “Zuckerbucks” – have come under scrutiny.

Florida has banned its clerks from accepting them. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis described the outside funds as “a corrupting influence, basically having Silicon Valley run your election.”

One lawsuit, which unsuccessfully challenged the legality of accepting the donations, alleged that $16 million in Zuckerbucks went to Michigan clerks in 2020.

Tudor Dixon, who is now running for governor as a Republican, wrote last year that $12 million was given to a nonprofit founded and run by Benson as recently as February 2020.

“Shortly after receiving the massive grant, (the Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration, the nonprofit Benson founded) gave 99 percent of it—or nearly $11.9 million—to two political consulting firms that work exclusively for Democrats under the guise of “educating voters,” Dixon wrote.

Johnson and five other Republicans have offered legislation to prevent that from happening again.

Senate Bill 1069 was introduced June 9 and referred to the Committee on Elections. There hasn’t been any action since.

The bill would need to pass the Michigan House and Senate and be signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to become law. If the governor vetoes a bill, both houses of the Legislature need to repass it with two-thirds support to override the veto.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.