The Wisconsin Purchase

By on Dec 27, 2021

How Mark Zuckerberg’s millions and the Center for Technology and Civic Life turned Wisconsin blue in 2020.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2011. (Frederic Legrand – COMEO/Shutterstock”)

DECEMBER 24, 2021|


Democrats seem to know that they cannot win a national election without employing the same tactics that they used to win in 2020. As Nsé Ufot, CEO of the Stacey Abrams-founded New Georgia Project, said “If there isn’t a way for us to repeat what happened in November 2020, we’re f—ed.”

What happened in 2020 involved a highly coordinated and privately funded “shadow campaign” for Joe Biden that took place within the formal structure of the election system itself. Through the injection of over $419 million of Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s money, laundered through the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL) and the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), the professional left presided over a targeted, historically unprecedented takeover of government election offices by nominally nonpartisan, but demonstrably ideological, nonprofit organizations and activists in key areas of swing states such as Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Our research shows that CTCL spending in Wisconsin generated enough votes for Joe Biden to secure him an Electoral College win there in 2020. We estimate that CTCL spending in Wisconsin purchased Joe Biden an additional 65,222votes,without which Donald Trump would have won the state by 44,540 votes.

Although CTCL and CEIR are chartered as non-partisan 501(c)(3) corporations, our research shows that the $419.5 million of CTCL and CEIR spending that took place in 2020 was highly partisan in its distribution, and highly partisan in its effects. Targeted CTCL and CEIR spending played a decisive role in building a “shadow” election system with a built-in structural bias that systematically favored Democratic votes over Republican votes.

Big CTCL and CEIR money had nothing to do with traditional campaign finance, media buys, lobbying, or other costs that are related to increasingly expensive modern elections. Rather, it had to do with financing the infiltration of election offices at the city and county level by Democrat activists and using those offices as a platform to implement preferred administrative practices, voting methods, ballot harvesting efforts, and data sharing agreements, as well as to launch intensive multi-media outreach campaigns and surgically targeted, concierge-level get-out-the-vote efforts in areas heavy with Democratic voters.

The injection of bias into select local election offices through CTCL infiltration introduced structural bias into Wisconsin’s entire 2020 election. This involved favoring certain voters and voting practices over others, and disfavoring other classes of voters and voting practices, giving CTCL’s preferred voters and voting methods an outsized impact on the final election results. The outcome of the 2020 election in Wisconsin is not the outcome that would have occurred if the election had been conducted on the basis of established election laws, equal treatment of voters, and administrative neutrality.

CTCL In Wisconsin: Ground Zero For CTCL’s Nationwide Effort

CTCL’s Safe Elections Project in Wisconsin was not the result of a grass roots clamor for greater election funding among money-starved municipalities desperately seeking additional election funding. It was entirely a top-down endeavor, initiated by CTCL operatives, and funded by a massive inflow of money from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who cultivated connections among “Wisconsin Five” mayors and other city officials, incentivized the first grant applications, and provided funds and advice to aid in their completion.

CTCL involvement in Wisconsin’s election began in Racine. In late May, CTCL issued a $100,000 grant to the southeast Wisconsin city to “recruit other Wisconsin cities to join the ‘Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan.’” Racine Mayor Cory Mason spoke to his fellow liberal mayors in Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Kenosha about accepting CTCL’s grants—with the proviso that there would be strings attached.
CTCL authorized the City of Racine to distribute from its initial $100,000 grant, $10,000 to each of the four recruited cities (keeping $10,000 for itself), as an incentive for them to participate with Racine in applying for the larger CTCL conditional grants.

Emails obtained through public records requests show Mason’s office in May 2020 setting up numerous virtual meetings with the four other mayors three months before CTCL publicly announced the first round of grants to the “Wisconsin 5” on July 7, 2020. The Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan, and CTCL involvement in Wisconsin’s election was the culmination of a collaborative effort between CTCL’s activist directors and election officials in Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee, and Racine. These cities would soon come to be referred to in CTCL inner circles as “The Wisconsin 5.”

At least 10 other cities in areas that were important to Democratic efforts to retake Wisconsin would eventually seek to become part of the plan by applying for and accepting significant CTCL grants considerably in excess of the minimum $5,000 offered to non-urban election offices throughout the state.

CTCL And “The Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan” to Infiltrate Wisconsin’s Election System

The Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan—which would emerge out of a collaboration between high level CTCL Advisors, several representatives of the Pierre Omidyar funded National Vote at Home Institute, and Milwaukee’s City Clerk office during Summer, 2020—was the lynchpin of CTCL’s involvement in Wisconsin’s 2020 election. Fulfilling its major objectives was a condition for CTCL funding. City officials among The Wisconsin 5 signed off on “clawback provisions” that allowed CTCL to reclaim their grant money if it was not used to further the objectives contained in the plan.

For example, the CTCL contract that Green Bay approved warns that the grant was to be used “only for” safe and secure election administration, “and for no other purposes,” which means under the ambitious terms they set forth in their portion of the WSVP. The grant’s clawback provision stated that “CTCL may discontinue, modify, withhold part of, or ask for the return of all or part of the grant funds if it determines, in its sole judgment, that (a) any of the above conditions have not been met or (b) it must do so to comply with applicable laws or regulations.”

How The Wisconsin 5 Sought to Implement CTCL’s Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan: Bonfire of the Inanities

The Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan lists CTCL’s four major strategic objectives.

CTCL funded election offices in Wisconsin seemed particularly intent on courting a demographic favored by the activists at CTCL—a loosely defined “New American Majority” coalition—to replace the working-class voters who had abandoned the party in droves in 2016, and who formerly made up a significant part of the old Democratic “Blue Wall” in the industrial upper Midwest.

This coalition encompasses people of color, single women, young people, and is often extended to include members of the LGBTQ community. Two of the non-profits most closely affiliated with CTCL, the Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information, are at the forefront of proponents of this electoral strategy. According to Democracy Docket, “In the 2020 election, VPC and CVI overcame unprecedented challenges to help engage voters from the New American Majority.”

Addressing these challenges would involve a large commitment of financial and human resources in Wisconsin. There was therefore considerable anguish expressed in the Wisconsin Safe Voting plan about the “hand holding” level of assistance that such voters required in order to cast valid votes, even under greatly relaxed absentee ballot standards during Covid-19 afflicted 2020. To meet this need, Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee, and Racine together budgeted over $540 thousand of their CTCL grant money toward various forms of “non-partisan voter education” alone.

The Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan outlined the prodigious efforts that the Wisconsin Five were willing to make in order to bend the election system from within toward these untapped tranches of low-propensity potential Democratic voters, and thereby increase Democratic votes in their cities, and in the statewide totals. Established by officials of the Wisconsin Five in collaboration with CTCL advisors, it would serve as the general template for CTCL’s efforts in other key swing states nationwide. It is an extravagant wish list of far-left Democratic election concerns and priorities.
Some of the highlights:

Absentee Ballot Chaos Heavily Favors Joe Biden in 2020

CTCL won Wisconsin for Joe Biden, and they did it mainly with absentee ballots. Covid-19 was used as a pretext in many states to put a moratorium on election integrity laws, guidelines and ballot verification procedures that have been long standing and time tested. The result was chaos, especially in states that suddenly moved from very limited absentee voting toward near universal mail-in voting in a very short period of time, such as Wisconsin.

CTCL’s major objective, as set forth in all their internal documents and grant applications, was to promote absentee voting. This involved getting absentee ballots into the hands of reliably Democratic demographics, showing them how to complete them correctly, convincing them to submit them, and providing as many avenues as possible for those ballots to be returned and counted.

CTCL’s involvement in the 2020 election appears exceedingly complex on the surface, at times requiring a program to keep track of the major players, scandals, and institutional relationships that grew out of the CTCL Safe Elections Project. This aspect of CTCL involvement in Wisconsin has been extensively documented by Mollie Hemingway of the Federalist and M.D. Kittle of the Wisconsin Spotlight, among others.

But all of the resources devoted toward ballot curing, drop boxes, vote navigators, partisan activists infiltrating local election offices, and other voter outreach efforts funded by CTCL were aimed at one ultimate end: Seeding an area heavy with potential Democratic votes with as many absentee ballots as possible, targeting and convincing potential voters to complete them in a legally valid way, and then harvesting and counting the results.
While Democrats knew that the radical move toward near universal absentee balloting in Wisconsin and the chaos that would ensue would probably work in their favor, they could not be sure. This is where CTCL performed an invaluable function that could not have been performed from outside the election system, and why infiltration and the injection of large amounts of funding into local election offices was of such importance.

As Hayden Ludwig of the Capital Research Center, an expert on mail-in voting, told us:

The surge of mail-in ballots due to Covid-19 was one of the 2020 election’s greatest novelties and the key to how the election was manipulated in favor of Joe Biden.

Democratic leadership came together behind vote-by-mail in early 2020 as their best shot at overcoming voters’ Covid fears and defeating Trump, in large part because of pressure from election activist groups, such as the National Vote At Home Institute.

The resulting tsunami of mail-in ballots created unprecedented security and chain-of-custody problems in states where vote-by-mail has never been tried on this scale. It strained the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to deliver mail-in ballots both to voters and vote-counters on-time.

It also stressed the budgets of local elections offices, requiring additional personnel and ballot-counting machines even as Covid-19 restricted working conditions. Without a surefire way to get these mail-in ballots first into voters’ hands, and second into ballot-counters’ hands, the Left could not have been confident the outcome would have significantly helped Biden. This is where CTCL proved essential.

A large part of CTCL’s grants paid for private ballot collection bins outside of USPS’s jurisdiction and with questionable oversight. CTCL also funded additional poll workers and vote-by-mail equipment to count incoming ballots, favoring large, Democratic-leaning cities in battleground states.

How CTCL’s Promotion of Mail-In Voting Favored Democrats in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, absentee ballots can be submitted by mail or “in person.” The majority of absentee ballots in Wisconsin were submitted via mail or deposited in private drop boxes whose contents were then harvested and delivered to the City Clerk. The Wisconsin 5 ended up having the highest rates of mail in voting in the state. All were well above the statewide average of 59.8 percent, with the highest being Dane County (Madison) at 74.4 percent and Milwaukee County at 70.6 percent. This was a major contributor toward increases in Democratic votes among Wisconsin’s CTCL funded counties.

By September 2020, the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) had already approved a proposal to fund the mailing of all registered voters absentee ballot request forms, and then assisted further increases in mail-in voting by refusing to intervene in a campaign to convince voters to prevaricate about their absentee ballot status to avoid ID and signature matching requirements.

This campaign veers toward actual election fraud. Clerks in liberal bastions Dane and Milwaukee counties in March 2020 advised voters that anyone could use the threat of Covid-19 as a reason for claiming “indefinitely confined” status for absentee voting, which excuses them from voter ID requirements. This message reached hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters, and spread beyond Dane and Milwaukee counties. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that, while this advice may have been ill advised, it was ultimately up to each voter to determine their status. Ultimately, about 215,000 voters claimed this status, four times more voters than had claimed to be “indefinitely confined” in 2016.

Absentee voting by mail has a well-known partisan bias that favors Democrats. According to the Election Lab at MIT, the partisan differences in voting by mail increased substantially in 2020. The number of Democrats voting by mail increased by more than 200 percent, while the number of Republicans utilizing vote by mail increased by only 50 percent compared to 2016. In total, they estimate that nearly 60 percent Democrats cast their ballots by mail in 2020, compared to just 30 percent for Republicans. Mail-in ballots are therefore twice as likely to be cast by Democratic voters as Republican voters.

This is well known, and is one of the reasons that Democrats advocate so strongly for universal mail-in voting, but it is far more than a matter of tailoring voting practices to their voters’ preferences. What they fear is that a significant portion of their coalition will not vote at all without mail-in ballots.

Table 1 shows the breakdown of absentee voting among the Wisconsin 5 counties and the other five counties that received significant CTCL grant money.

Financing Wisconsin’s Shadow Election System: The Myth of Underfunded Local Election Offices

While we cannot attest to the particular strains on election budgets caused by Covid-19, we do know that by July 2020 the federal government had already distributed over $470 million in CARES Act election grants. The state of Wisconsin received $7,362,345 from the Federal Government and provided state matching funds of $1,472,469 for a total of $8,834,814 to deal with Covid related election expenses.Due to Wisconsin election law, CTCL grants were actually made to cities and not to counties, as in many other states. CTCL marketed its Safe Election Project as an attempt to address the needs of underfunded local election offices in the face of Covid-19 related election challenges. CTCL characterized the problem as “A chronic pattern of systemic underfunding of elections – made more acute by a pandemic.”

To give some idea of the scale of CTCL funding of Wisconsin’s election, this is almost exactly equal to the $8.8 million that CTCL ultimately provided to the Wisconsin Five alone, even though those cities contain less than 20 percent of the state’s population. If they were “underfunded” before CTCL appeared, they were certainly not underfunded afterward by any statewide standard.

But an examination of the election budgets published by the state’s most populous cities shows that The Wisconsin 5 already had some of the most generous election funding in the state. After accounting for CTCL grants, an obvious two tier election system – at least in financial terms – emerges in Wisconsin between the Wisconsin 5 plus 1 (the additional city being Janesville in Rock County) and the rest of Wisconsin cities.

Partisan Bias in The Distribution of CTCL Grants: Why It Matters

In Wisconsin, CTCL grants were awarded to cities and towns, which are in charge of administering elections. Partisan bias in the distribution of CTCL money is important not only because it is unfair, but because it introduces an easily quantifiable structural bias that favors Democrats in the election system in places that are already more inclined to generate more Democratic votes than Republican votes.
Table 3 shows that big CTCL money went to some of the most heavily Democratic cities in the U.S.

The Impact of CTCL on Wisconsin’s Election, 2020

Joe Biden won only 14 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. In the ten counties Biden won that did not receive substantial CTCL money, the sum of his victory margin was only about 19,600 votes.

In the remaining 4 counties in which Biden won, all of which were CTCL counties, his margin was 380,371 votes. Biden’s margin of victory came almost entirely from CTCL funded counties, so that is where we look to attempt to discover the impact of CTCL funding on Wisconsin’s 2020 election results.
Many counties received more than one CTCL grant that add up to a substantial total, so we include countywide grant totals in our analysis. Our conclusions are based on a binary in group/out group analysis, where the in group consists of counties that were awarded over $50k in CTCL funds. These counties when combined exhibit different statistical characteristics than Wisconsin’s other 62 counties when we focus on CTCL spending as a determining variable. We conceptualize elections in CTCL counties as “Get Out the Vote” machines for Joe Biden based on our GOTV multiplier in Table 3, where a randomly targeted get out vote effort will generate net gains in votes for Joe Biden based on the D+ percentage. Since the get-out-the-vote effort in CTCL counties was not randomly targeted, this methodology gives very conservative estimates.

Using this method, and adjusting for systematic increases in turnout and population growth, we estimate with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that CTCL spending in Wisconsin caused: 65,222 Additional Joe Biden votes. Since Joe Biden’s margin of victory in 2020 was 20,682 votes, we conclude with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that in the absence of CTCL in Wisconsin: Donald Trump wins Wisconsin by 44,540 votes.

This estimate is closely aligned with our undisputed Texas results, where we were able to employ a more sophisticated methodology because of the greater number of counties that received CTCL grants, and higher and more continuous variability in grant amounts. In the Texas case, using BART analysis, we estimated that additional Biden votes that could be attributed to CTCL was about 200,000 votes, or 3.8 percent of his statewide total. In this case our estimate is 4 percent of Biden’s Wisconsin statewide total, so these results are closely aligned with our Texas results.

CTCL spending had other effects, in addition to increasing Biden’s vote total. With the exception of Fond Du Lac County, all of the counties which comprise our CTCL in-group shifted significantly toward Democrats in 2020, despite the fact that all witnessed significant increases in Donald Trump votes over 2016, usually in the neighborhood of 10 percent to 12 percent. This was not a systematic pattern that we observed in Wisconsin’s other 62 counties, in which Republican to Democratic shifts are far fewer and more randomly distributed.

Waukesha County, Wisconsin’s reliably red and third most populous county, shifted Democrat by an astonishing 5.85 percent in 2020, while solidly red Marathon County also shifted Democrat. Though they remained Republican counties, they are much less so now.

Extremely blue Dane County became even more blue, with the Democrat vote share increasing by an equally stunning 5.28 percent from an already high level. Unless this is reversed, one of the most significant effects of CTCL’s intervention in Wisconsin was to make its most populous counties significantly more Democratic than they were in 2016. These changes could have a decisive impact on elections in 2022 and 2024, especially if an organization like CTCL attempts to replicate their 2020 effort in the future.

We can assert with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that CTCL’s $10.3 million investment in Wisconsin flipped the state from red to blue in 2020. A bill to prevent private funding of Wisconsin’s elections in the future recently passed both houses of the Wisconsin legislature but was vetoed by Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers. We doubt he will reconsider his veto after reviewing this report.

William Doyle, Ph.D., is principal researcher at Caesar Rodney Election Research Institute in Irving, Texas. He specializes in economic history and the private funding of American elections. Previously, he was associate professor and chair in the Department of Economics at the University of Dallas.