GOP Philadelphia City Commissioner Opposes Restricting Third-Party Election Grants

Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill and Lisa Baker

At a Pennsylvania Senate hearing Tuesday, Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Seth Bluestein joined his two Democratic colleagues in supporting the continued allowance of private grants for election administration. 

Left-wing nonprofits, particularly the Chicago-based Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), awarded many such grants to election offices in Pennsylvania and across America in 2020. The organization received $350 million that year from Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. 

Republicans have worked to ban or regulate grants from groups like CTCL, noting that they went overwhelmingly to Democrat-leaning counties, thus demonstrating what Republicans perceive as a partisan attempt to influence electoral outcome. State senators are currently considering a bill sponsored by State Senators Lisa Baker (R-Dallas) and Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-Jacobus) to ban such private contributions as well as a measure by State Representatives Eric Nelson (R-Greensburg) to ensure that any such contributions, as long as they remain allowed, get made to the Pennsylvania Department of State for equal distribution among the counties.

Speaking to the Senate State Government Committee, Bluestein insisted that available taxpayer funding was insufficient to meet his city’s administrative needs in 2020. He observed that Philadelphia, which has over 1 million registered voters, received about 425,000 applications for mail-in ballots that autumn and that voters returned about 375,000 of the requested ballots, about 20 times more than the number of ballots sent in during the 2016 election. In light of that volume, the municipality made significant equipment purchases with the $10,516,074 it received from CTCL.

“Ideally, the legislature would provide reliable and consistent funding for election management, making third-party funding of elections unnecessary; we all agree on that,” he said. “However, the 2020 election made it clear that significant funding gaps remain. It would be shortsighted to outright ban counties from accepting third-party funding without a nuanced, regular government funding source from the commonwealth to replace it.”

Democratic Philadelphia City Commissioners Lisa Deely and Omar Sabir also told senators they oppose the Baker and Nelson bills. 

CTCL grants to Pennsylvania counties totaled $22.5 million in 2020. Since that time, the center-right outlet Broad + Liberty has determined that the sizes of the contributions skewed decisively toward Democrat-leaning counties relative to how many registered voters lived in recipient counties. 

Philadelphia, which received the most money from the organization, got $8.87 per registered voter. Centre County, which includes the liberal stronghold of state college, received $7.70 per registered voter. By contrast, the “red” county to obtain the largest CTCL grant on a per-voter basis was Berks, at $1.73. 

Todd Shepherd, the author of Broad + Liberty’s analyses of CTCL’s role in Pennsylvania’s 2020 election, shared his findings with senators at the hearing.

“Generally speaking, the Republican theory of what these grants were intended to do goes like this: that the CTCL and its allies would use grants to greatly boost the election resources of ‘blue’ counties so that turnout would be higher there, thereby boosting Democratic candidates,” he said. “Unsurprisingly, I did not uncover any ‘smoking gun’ to this effect. I did, however, find a tremendous amount of circumstantial evidence that would point in that direction with minimal circumstantial evidence that would point to the contrary.” 

Shepherd also reviewed for legislators his findings that all of the counties to which CTCL offered assistance before September 1, 2020, were Democrat-leaning areas. Emails obtained through open-records requests showed extensive communication between state and local Democratic officials with CTCL before autumn that year and no such early dialogue between the organization and GOP counties.

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill” by Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill and photo “Pa. State Senator Lisa Baker” by Pennsylvania Senate Republican Caucus CC BY 3.0.




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