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Posts misrepresent Mark Zuckerberg’s election spending

May 4, 2022 GMT
FILE - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Paley Center in New York, Oct. 25, 2019. Social media users have falsely claimed that Zuckerberg’s donations that helped election offices in 2020 violated campaign finance rules. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
FILE - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Paley Center in New York, Oct. 25, 2019. Social media users have falsely claimed that Zuckerberg’s donations that helped election offices in 2020 violated campaign finance rules. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
FILE - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Paley Center in New York, Oct. 25, 2019. Social media users have falsely claimed that Zuckerberg’s donations that helped election offices in 2020 violated campaign finance rules. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
FILE - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Paley Center in New York, Oct. 25, 2019. Social media users have falsely claimed that Zuckerberg’s donations that helped election offices in 2020 violated campaign finance rules. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
FILE - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Paley Center in New York, Oct. 25, 2019. Social media users have falsely claimed that Zuckerberg’s donations that helped election offices in 2020 violated campaign finance rules. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

CLAIM: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg spent more than $400 million in 2020 to elect Joe Biden, violating campaign finance rules that limit donations.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. While Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, collectively donated at least $400 million to two nonprofit organizations to help various government election offices across the country, the funds were not contributions to Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign and did not violate campaign finance laws.

THE FACTS: Posts suggesting that Zuckerberg improperly spent a large sum of money to elect Biden have circulated widely as some social media users and conservative lawmakers continue to push the unfounded claim that fraud played a significant role in the 2020 presidential election.

“The legal maximum an individual could donate to a Presidential campaign in 2020 was $5,600. Mark Zuckerberg spent over $400,000,000 in 2020 to help elect Joe Biden,” one social media user wrote in a tweet that was shared more than 13,000 times. “Why isn’t this being investigated?”

But the claim is misleading and confuses two types of election spending.

Zuckerberg didn’t donate directly to Biden’s 2020 campaign, federal campaign finance records show. He and his wife donated at least $400 million to two nonprofit organizations which distributed grants to state and local governments to help them conduct the 2020 election during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The donations came at a time when election offices were trying to transition to mail voting. The money helped pay for material and services such as equipment to process mail ballots, protective equipment to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and drive-thru voting locations, The Associated Press reported.

The Center for Tech and Civic Life, a Chicago-based nonprofit, received and distributed the bulk of the money. The Center for Election Innovation and Research, which is based in Washington, also issued grants.

The FEC does impose limitations on contributions to candidates for office, and capped individual donations to candidate committees at $2,800 per election in 2020. But Zuckerberg and Chan’s donations don’t violate those rules because they weren’t donations to a political candidate.

“The federal election rules have nothing to do with any of this,” said Barry Burden, founding director of the Elections Research Center at University of Wisconsin-Madison. “These were not campaign donations. These were grants to governments, mostly county and municipal governments that run elections across the united states.”

Ben LaBolt, a spokesperson for Zuckerberg and Chan, described the online claims as “not accurate.”

“Mark and Priscilla provided funding to two non-partisan organizations that helped cities and states ensure that residents could vote regardless of their party or preference,” he wrote in an email to the AP. “Nearly 2,500 election jurisdictions from 49 states applied for and received funds, including urban, suburban, rural, and exurban counties.”

LaBolt wrote that the grants were “made in full compliance with the law.”

A review of online FEC records show that Zuckerberg did not directly donate to Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. LaBolt also confirmed that Zuckerberg did not make any direct donations.

Conservatives have criticized the donations due to suspicion that the money aided Democrats, the AP reported in August 2021.

Some of the Center for Tech and Civic Life’s founders were once involved with the New Organizing Institute, which provided training to liberal activists. Conservative groups have argued that the funds disproportionately went to Democratic-leaning counties in key states, including Pennsylvania.

But election officials have said there is no indication of favoritism in how the money was distributed, according to previous AP reports. The board of the Center for Tech and Civic Life also includes Pam Anderson, a Republican and former elected clerk of a suburban Denver-area county. Republican election officials have also vouched for the program’s impartiality, including Brian Mead, a Republican election director in Licking County, Ohio.

The Center for Tech and Civic Life announced in April that it won’t distribute similar donations this year, the AP reported. At least eight Republican-controlled states passed laws last year banning private donations to election offices.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.