Governor Kristi Noem made a big deal Wednesday about signing Senate Bill 122, which prohibits the use of private dollars to fund public elections, claiming that she is stopping Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg from pouring “Zuck Bucks” into our local elections:
In 2020, we saw Mark Zuckerberg pour “Zuck Bucks” into local election operations across the country. Elections should be funded by the government, and we will not risk creating avenues for big-tech billionaires to unfairly influence our free and open elections [Gov. Kristi Noem, press release, 2022.03.16].
This from Kristi Noem, who pimped out our National Guard to a Tennessee billionaire, who has campaigns with connections to billionaires dancing in the dark money to influence South Dakota politics, who herself has spent more time hobnobbing with wealthy elites to fill her campaign coffers? Is she practicing new laugh lines for her next out-of-state fundraiser?
I really don’t want any Zuckerberg money, either, but his grants didn’t buy any votes or sway anything outcomes. In Pennington County, the grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life covered the basic office costs associated with holding an election:
A non profit called the Center for Tech and Civic Life supported by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg handed out grants all over the country. South Dakota saw about 380 thousand distributed to 35 counties.
Pennington County Auditor Cindy Mohler says she looked at applying for the grant as a way to save taxpayers some money.
“The Center for Tech and Civic Life reached out, asked us to apply there was another person in the community told me about it as well, he reached out to one of the commissioners, they called me and said have you applied for this? I was like, well yep ok, so we got on it, applied for it and received the grant,” said Mohler.
Tom – And again what was the grant money used for?
“For us, it was used for covering the extra cost that we incurred in 2020, you know the absentee ballots were up so we had additional costs in ballots postage, envelopes, time all of those sorts of things, I purchased some shelving to help of organizing all the tubs of absentee ballots, that sort of thing,” said Mohler [Tom Hanson, “Auditor Reacts to New South Dakota Election Law,” KELO-TV, 2022.03.17].
Hanson says “one lawmaker” told him that “allowing private funding for elections could be a slippery slope and counties could become too dependent on it.” I can roll with the thesis that we shouldn’t rely on the charity or anyone else in the private sector to provide basic public services. We should make sure we are fully funding the cost of conducting free and fair elections with our tax dollars. But if the Pennington County auditor and other election offices are having trouble covering the costs of ballots, postage, and staff to make sure every South Dakotan can vote, Senate Bill 122 by itself is a bad idea. Unless we see the state committing itself to boosting funding for auditors and the Secretary of State, Senate Bill 122 is just South Dakota’s sneaky way of participating in the nationwide Republican effort to weaken our elections.