Georgia’s DeKalb County could keep its $2 million in private grant money to help run elections, under a bill nearing final passage. But the next Georgia local government official who accepts an outside election grant might end up a convicted felon.
That’s the message majority Republicans sent Monday as the Georgia House voted 100-69 along party lines to approve Senate Bill 222. The measure would make it illegal for local government to accept any funding for elections from outside groups except the state or federal governments. The bill goes back to the Senate for more debate because the House made changes.
A 2021 Georgia law made it illegal for elections officials themselves to accept outside money after Republicans grew alarmed that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated more than $400 million to election officials nationwide. Republicans view outside money for election administration as unfairly favoring Democratic counties and improperly influencing the conduct of elections.
“It’s not a new idea that there’s people out there who want to illegally influence the outcome of our elections,” said House Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman John LaHood, a Valdosta Republican. “That’s been going on since Moby Dick was a minnow, and it’s going to continue.”
But it was widely understood in 2021 that county commissions could still take money from outside groups and pass it on to election administrators. Earlier this year, however, overwhelmingly Democratic DeKalb County accepted $2 million from the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence to seek improvements and share best practices. The alliance includes the Center for Tech and Civic Life, Zuckerberg’s main funding vehicle from 2020.
That set off a round of condemnations from Republicans that DeKalb had broken the law.
Republican lawmakers originally wrote the bill to force the county to give the money back. House members removed the refund provision, which could have been attacked as an illegal after-the-fact law. But Democrats Monday pushed back on claims that DeKalb had done anything illegal.
“There is a false narrative here,” said Rep. Saira Draper, an Atlanta Democrat. “This bill does not simply clarify what has been the law all along.”
Republicans say any money should be donated to the state and divvied up according to directions from the State Elections Board, which is dominated by Republican appointees. The board in December, however, asked lawmakers to make such rules for accepting and dividing donations.
Democrats, though, said the 2021 law made it more expensive for counties to run elections and that without outside funding, counties may have to raise taxes to pay for the increased expenses.
“Clearly we just keep driving up the counties’ costs, which are ultimately borne by our taxpayers, and now we are handcuffing them even further,” said Rep. Shea Roberts, an Atlanta Democrat. She argued that the bill was being advanced illegally because sponsors hadn’t filed a fiscal note estimating its costs.
Republished with permission from The Associated Press.