Pennsylvania governor signs law prohibiting private funding of elections

In a move that surprised some Republicans, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) signed into law a bill passed in the legislature that banned the use of private funds for elections in the state while guaranteeing state funding to counties for that purpose, according to The Federalist.

The legislation was prompted by the move by Mark Zuckerberg in 2020 to donate $400 million to 2,500 locations to fund elections. At the time, Republicans accused Zuckerberg of trying to influence the election toward Joe Biden, and Zuckerberg has said he will not be making any similar donations in the future.

The law says that election officials “may not solicit, apply for, enter into a contract for or receive or expend gifts, donations, grants or funding from any individual, business, organization, trust, foundation, or any nongovernmental entity for the registration of voters or the preparation, administration or conducting of an election in [the] Commonwealth.”

SB 982 also establishes an “election integrity grant program,” which will enable the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to give grants to counties for “payment of staff needed to pre-canvass and canvass mail-in ballots and absentee ballots,” “physical security and transparency costs for centralized pre-canvassing and canvassing,” and “processing of voter registration applications,” plus some other uses.

“Actual reforms”

Counties can apply for the grants beginning August 1.

State Sen. Lisa Baker and co-sponsor Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill said they introduced the measure “because Pennsylvania needs to see action on actual reforms that will improve an election system that has been severely tried and tested in recent years.”

“We believe reform begins with prohibiting private groups from funding election administration. Voting is among our basic rights, and the responsibility for properly running and funding elections is vested in government,” Baker said. “No matter who on the outside is contributing, no matter their expressed motivations, millions of dollars coming in from national figures or organizations naturally raises suspicions of hidden agendas.”

Some Republicans said they were surprised that Wolf signed the bill, given that he was very aggressive about helping counties secure private funding in 2020.

State funding was the key

But it makes sense that Wolf would sign a bill that funded these county election operations at the state level, rather than leaving it up to the counties to do.

Of course Wolf, a Democrat, would be all for centralized government funding of elections rather than private funding. More government spending fits right into his agenda, even if it happens to dovetail with Republicans’ just this once.

It’s become increasingly rare for politicians in swing states like Pennsylvania to find a win-win situation that can advance generally disparate agendas, but it looks like they managed to do so in this case.

More than 20 states have passed legislation to ban private election funding since 2020.

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