Why is it Necessary to Expose Our Elections to the Influence of Private Money?

Leora Levy


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To the Editor:

In Alma Rutgers’ Jan. 21 opinion piece, she decried the “nasty, partisan acrimony on the RTM.”  Her antidote: dehumanize Republicans by labeling them MAGA and calling them “a virus.”  In her own words, “MAGA is infecting the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting…the virus reached fever pitch.”  As I read though her piece, it really felt like someone was shouting “MAGA, MAGA, MAGA!”  At some point, it becomes just noise.

Using labels and over simplifications to address Republicans is the very “virus” of which she complains.  It is what one does to shut down conversation, rather than hearing both side’s arguments. In Greenwich as I have known it, debate has been encouraged, not shut down with bullying pejorative tactics and efforts to “shame” differences of opinion.  Spirited, respectful debate on issues is a sign of vibrant democracy; shutting it down is a characteristic of totalitarianism.

To further discredit and obscure, inflammatory buzzwords which are irrelevant to this issue are thrown in: “voting accessibility, reproductive choice, LGBTQ rights, racial justice, closing the income gap, gun safety, addressing climate change, protection of democracy.”  None of these have anything to do with the issue of the possible influence on elections in Greenwich by a partisan private organization with a “magnanimous” “no strings attached” $500,000 grant, funded with hundreds of millions of dollars by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.  Is she not even a little bit curious about what might motivate CTCL to make such a large grant to Greenwich?

Rutgers demonizes the Republican National Committee, saying that we are trying to interfere in the RTM.  Nonsense!  As the Republican National Committeewoman who has lived and voted in Greenwich for 35 years, who cares deeply about free and fair elections, since CTCL and the Alliance for Election Excellence are bestowing these grants to cities throughout the country, I asked a simple question of the RNC: whether they had any information about these organizations and their grants.  If the situation was reversed, would she demonize one of her friends for asking the DNC? I certainly would not fault any Democrat for looking to their national party for advice on national activities of national organizations. 

Rutgers and her colleagues are entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.  Here are the facts about these organizations and their “benevolence” from a recent report on Fox News: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/zuckerberg-funded-group-pushing-millions-influence-election-offices

An $80 million initiative begun last spring to support election offices across the country is the latest chapter in an ongoing effort by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to influence election officials, according to a new report.”

“However, the Honest Elections Project (HEP) on Thursday released a report in conjunction with the John Locke Foundation that described the Alliance as “merely a continuation” of CTCL’s so-called “Zuck Bucks scheme,” a term critics use to describe the private funding of elections by left-wing donors in 2020.”

“…the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence appears to be another effort by Zuckerberg and CTCL to influence local election operations, according to critics.”

“‘The work of the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence is Zuck Bucks 2.0, which is why they avoided states that have instituted bans on the private funding of election administration,’ Andy Jackson, director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity, said in a statement.”

Twenty-four states have enacted bans or restrictions on private funding of local election offices. But the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence has been working to ingratiate itself with local offices.”

“While the effects of the Alliance’s creation remain to be seen, the HEP report says its activities show the group is working to target local election offices and influence their operations to push left-wing voting policies.

HEP and the John Locke Foundation used the report to highlight documents they obtained through public records requests that, they argue, show the Alliance ‘is actually designed to systematically influence every aspect of election administration in target offices and push progressive voting policies.’ ”

It does not take much effort to connect the dots if one cares to learn about the origins of CTCL, the Alliance for Election Excellence. and the people who run them: https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/new-organizing-institute/

According to The Washington Post, founded in 2004 by “…Zack Exley, a radical activist with Moveon.org,” the original organization was the New Organizing Institute, aka “the Democrat Party’s Hogwarts for digital wizardry and the Left’s think tank for campaign know-how…By spreading the latest skills in coding, social media, and internet advertising to as many left-of-center activists as possible, NOI could diffuse digital learning through the progressive movement as those activists went on to different places in their careers, giving a lasting advantage to Democrats.”

CNN called NOI “The Left’s new Death Star.”

According to The Washington Post, NOI folded in 2015.  Tiana Epps-Johnson, whose signature is on the Greenwich Grant paperwork, “…founded CTCL as a left-of-center voter outreach group,” then went to NOI, subsequently returning to CTCL in 2015 when “…NOI folded into Wellstone Action, one of the largest left-of-center campaign training organizations.” 

In April 2022 Tiana Epps Johnson announced that CTCL had launched the Alliance for Election Excellence under the guise of nonpartisan promotion of “common values and standards” to election officials, further obscuring the nature of CTCL’s-AEE’s mission.  https://www.techandciviclife.org/us-alliance-for-election-excellence-launch/

If anyone has any doubts about the purpose and role of the CTCL and the Alliance for Election Excellence in influencing elections, just read The Washington Post and watch CNN. 

While Greenwich Registrars of voters, Fred De Caro and Mary Hegarty have declared the best of intentions for accepting $500,000 of private funds to make sure that Greenwich Elections are well run, it begs the question: Have there been problems with Greenwich Elections that require $500,000 of private funds to fix?  If so, why haven’t they asked for funding through the normal budgeting process of the Town of Greenwich?  If there are problems with elections in Greenwich, perhaps De Caro and Hegarty could explain them to us. Otherwise, why is it necessary to expose our elections to the influence of private money from questionable organizations so closely aligned with the progressive movement and their agenda in this country? 

These are legitimate concerns.  The razor thin vote in favor of the funding at last week’s RTM, with some members complaining that the electronic voting recorded their votes incorrectly shows that this issue is very closely contested.  It is my hope that both sides can take the rhetoric down and stick to a reasoned discussion of the merits and pitfalls of the Town of Greenwich aligning with a private entity for the administration of our elections. 

Returning to the initial point on how the tone and manner of political disagreements have changed here, I am very sad that Rutgers chose to take this route, grandstanding in the press instead of picking up the phone, emailing me, or better yet, meet for coffee, to ask why I was so concerned about the grant and explain why she felt taking the grant was a good idea.  That is the way friends and neighbors who have known each other for over two decades used to treat each other in a civil society and especially in our Town. That is the way I would have handled things if the situation had been reversed. 

Levy, a Greenwich resident, is a RNC National Committeewoman