In the 2020 election — like never before, experts say — social media titans stepped in and influenced the outcome. One of the controversies surrounds so-called “Zuck Bucks”: huge grants of money to certain local governments from Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and his wife. Today, we’re finding out how it worked from the head of the conservative investigative think tank Capital Research Center: Scott Walter.
I guess the simplest way to put it is, Mark Zuckerberg — the head of Facebook — he and his billionaire wife gave around $400 million to two nonprofits. Legally, they're public charities, so they're not supposed to be involved in elections in a partisan way, in any way. And those two charities gave money to almost every state in the union, directly into government election offices. And they did it with strings attached, including things like, "You must have this many extra drop boxes,” and this and that. Money went very disproportionately to the Democrat vote-rich jurisdictions, mainly the big cities. The second thing is, within the funded part of those states, the Democrats did far better than they did in the rest of the state.
Sharyl: Other than the point that you made where you're saying the money was funneled through organizations that are not supposed to be involved in politics, is there anything inherently illegal about a group giving money to elections causes in states and cities?
Scott Walter: At the time, it was perfectly legal for a charity to give money to a government office. And they tried to pretend like it was, "Oh, we're just masks and Plexiglas and whatnot." That was the tiny fraction of the money. But there were no laws against that because nobody dreamt of doing this. So that part, the giving the money there, was legal.
Sharyl: Then, beyond the money that was given, or the "Zuck Bucks," there was a huge social media effect on the election. I think pretty much everybody agrees. With the censorship of Donald Trump or shaping of information, including Facebook doing this. What is your assessment of this impact on the 2020 election?
Scott Walter: The social media titans felt deeply responsible for the 2016 victory of Donald Trump, though they didn't intend it. And they vowed it would never happen again, and left-wing pressure groups also put heavy pressure on them. Vanita Gupta, for instance, who was, at the time, head of a civil rights group, now is in the Department of Justice — one of the top Department of Justice folks for Biden — she bragged to Time Magazine about how she and other left-wing advocacy groups harassed Zuckerberg and Dorsey at Twitter, and even more of that world, long before the election. Demanding that they censor, that they block, that they change algorithms. All this stuff so that the election would turn out the way they wanted it.
Sharyl: What do you see in 2024, along those lines?
Scott Walter: I don't think anybody thinks that there is a simple solution to this problem of tech censorship in elections. And I hope we will continue to grapple with it after the '22 elections. Some of the houses of Congress may change and there may get to be more public debate and Americans can try to figure out how to deal with this very genuine problem.
Sharyl (on-camera): At least 16 states so far have taken steps to pass laws restricting Zuck Buck-type funding. Mark Zuckerberg has said he and his wife gave $300 million two months before the 2020 election because of concern over voting challenges due to Covid. A spokesman says "nearly 2,500 election jurisdictions from 49 states...received funds” to help recruit poll workers, rent polling places, support drive-through voting, and more.