Private Money in Our Elections – Connecticut’s Zuckerbucks Problem

Dominic Rapini


TwitterFacebookCopy LinkPrintEmail

Today, most voters know that there are many state and federal laws all intended to secure and sustain election integrity. From Federal and State election laws regulating donations and disclosure of donors to prohibiting a range of activities such as communication and coordination between political campaigns and political action committees (“PACS”) the purpose of these rules is to ensure public trust in elections. We even have rules like prohibiting political activities (Electioneering) within 75ft of voting locations. But what happens when millions of dollars find their way into our election process? Shouldn’t our Secretary of the State identify the potential for problems and set out rules to ensure the integrity of the election process and instill trust? Unfortunately, not in our state.

For every law and regulation, there are those that are actively engineering news ways around them. Often, the money, and in this case big money, finds its way into our election process in the shadows and usually designed to appear benign and well intentioned. The well-publicized donations of Mark Zuckerberg and his wife who funneled an estimated $400 million dollars or more into the 2020 elections is a prime example. In Connecticut, election officials received $1,455,481 dollars of this private money which raises questions about how it was distributed, how it was used, and who was providing oversight in Hartford? Apparently, no one?

Commonly referred to as “Zuckerbucks”, the money was channeled through several non-profit organizations which were promoted as providing safe and reliable voting and augmenting voter participation. While advertised as a response to Covid 19, ongoing research nationally has uncovered evidence of unequal distribution of the money and uses that appear to benefit one political party to the disadvantage of the other.

The Zuckerbucks were primarily funneled through a group called Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) and donations were made nationally to an estimated 2,500 counties in 49 states. In Connecticut, public records indicate the CTCL made grants to 37 towns received a whopping $1,455,481 (LINK). While most towns have public records that carefully tracked and reported on the use of funds for election process improvements, some municipalities such as Hartford were less transparent and appear to be keeping their use of these private funds in the shadows?

Based on our research, in 2020, Hartford’s election officials applied for and received $349,000 in private funding according to CTCL IRS filings. However, the city of Hartford’s CheckBook Hartford website (LINK) indicates that the combined budgets for the 2020 elections for Town Clerk and Office of the Registrars was only $173,118. Where did the $349,000 go and why was it was not reflected by election official’s budgets? Did it benefit one political party to the disadvantage of the other as national research appears to suggest occurred in several states or is this a case of questionable accounting?

While the non-profits who funneled the money in grants in 2020 claim the funds were available to all election officials regardless of the history of previous party line voting in the jurisdiction and the Zuckerbergs say they will not be making such donations in the future, what should concern all voters is the how millions of dollars of largely unregulated private funding can pour into our election process with no public protections.

While reports indicate that the Zuckerbucks often included detailed instructions and guidelines as to the money’s use, where the “strings attached” partisan? What were the rules of the road from Connecticut’s Secretary of the State regarding use of these funds? Did our Secretary of State know about the private funding? Why was no action taken to ensure all our towns benefited equally with fair and nonpartisan distribution of funds with full transparency required? Where were there guardrails?

Recent news of more investigations into alleged misuses of Federal funds and the unfolding prosecutions in West Haven and Bridgeport should be sounding the alarm bells. Big money flowing to our politicians demands the need for transparency and scrutiny, but when it is the election process itself the urgency for an active and effective Secretary of State has never been greater.

The Zuckerbucks issue is just another example of why our state demands focused and effective action on day one. There is no time for learning on the job. Zuckerbuck’s millions in Connecticut is also another example of the essential priority of restoring trust in our election process, ensuring all 169 towns and cities have clear guidelines and the tools they need.

Dominic Rapini

Candidate for Secretary of the State