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Arizona puts brakes on election funding by outside groups
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Arizona puts brakes on election funding by outside groups

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PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey has sent a message to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg: Thanks for the money to help Arizona run the last election.

But you can’t do that again.

Nor can anyone else with cash.

Ducey signed legislation Friday making it illegal for any state or local agency that conducts an election to accept any outside cash. Instead, he said, their resources will be limited to whatever the county and state provide, whether with tax dollars or federal grants.

But the governor, in signing the measure, apparently rejected claims by some Republicans that the $6 million that nine Arizona counties got from the Center for Tech and Civic Life to help fund additional costs to run the election during the COVID-19 pandemic was really a secret effort to turn out more Democrats.

In fact, Ducey declined to question the motives.

“We are grateful for the assistance we received in 2020,” the governor wrote. “Nothing in this law should be interpreted as being unappreciative.”

But he said it just looks bad when counties take outside cash. And that’s why he is signing legislation to block any future effort, no matter how well intentioned.

Ducey, however, did say that the decision to block outside cash does come with a requirement for the government.

“Going forward, the legislative and executive branches must continue to invest adequate resources to ensure you and county election officials have the resources you need to effectively and securely administer elections,” he wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the state’s chief election officer, explaining his decision to sign the measure.

What’s behind the law was CTCL providing about $400 million in grants to about 2,500 jurisdictions nationally to help deal with some of the unanticipated costs of the 2020 race. Most of that money came from Facebook founder Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. Nine Arizona counties got a total of $6 million in grants.

The dollars went to defray some of the additional COVID-related costs ranging from personal protective equipment and voter education to remote polling locations, Jenn Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, told lawmakers.

But Scott Walter, who heads the Capital Research Center, said he saw something more deliberate in the decision by Zuckerberg to help promote voter turnout.

Walter, whose organization says that it studies unions, environmental groups and nonprofit and “activist” groups,” said Republicans did better in turnout in 2020 than prior years in the six counties that didn’t get CTCL grants.

The reverse was true, he said, in funded counties, where the cash helped Democrats almost twice as much as it helped Republicans. He said that in those nine funded counties, Democrats beat Republicans by close to 122,000 votes, far more than the 10,457-vote edge that Joe Biden had statewide over Donald Trump.

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said there was a simple fix for that concern: Put restrictions in law to preclude grants from being used for partisan purposes. But the Republican-controlled Legislature rejected that and adopted the broader ban.

Ducey made it clear that he wasn’t buying the claim that counties were taking the money for some nefarious political purposes.

“When private monies were offered, our election officials used these dollars with the integrity for which they’ve become known,” he said. And Ducey said that 2020 may not have been the first time that outside dollars were used to conduct elections.

“But it should be the last,” the governor wrote. “With public confidence in our elections in peril, it’s clear that elections must be pristine and above reproach — and the sole purview of government.”

Ducey said that outsiders remain free to engage in advocacy and in running their own campaigns urging people to get out to vote.

“But the mechanics of elections cannot be in question, and therefore all third-party money must be excluded going forward to avoid any possible allegations of wrongdoing,” he said.

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