JEFFERSON CITY — Just four days before the end of the 2021 legislative session, House lawmakers approved a ban on grants and other outside funding to support conducting elections.
Senate Bill 333 was brought to the House floor for initial approval Tuesday. The bill, originally aimed at modifying some regulations for nonprofit organizations, was sponsored by Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, and handled in the House by Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho.
Baker brought forward an amendment to the bill that would prohibit private donations to election authorities. The amendment states that no one may contribute, donate, pay or transfer any money or equipment, including in-kind donations, with the purpose of conducting elections.
This includes both local and statewide elections.
Baker said the amendment deals with funds used to directly “impact the outcome of an election,” but some lawmakers worried that it was too broad and would cause problems for local election officials.
Baker cited the $400 million in grants donated by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, to help local election offices in the 2020 election.
Baker said this money was “targeted to certain areas throughout the country with strings attached to see an outcome, a specific outcome, in those elections.”
Many Democrats asked for more explanation from Baker — what exactly were these “strings attached?”
Baker did not have proof of the exact conditions of the Zuckerberg grants but said he worried about the lack of transparency in the program’s process and hand in elections.
“In counties that voted for Trump in 2020, less than half of them received the Zuckerberg (Foundation) money,” Baker said.
Baker said his amendment would “make it fair and equitable” across the board and maintain the integrity of local and state elections.
But Rep. Donna Baringer, D-St. Louis, said that without additional money, cities like St. Louis cannot afford to fully fund local elections.
“The reason I can’t support this amendment is because we don’t have the funds to survive without outside help, whether it be a public-private partnership or a grant,” Baringer said.
Despite recommendations to withdraw the amendment and bring it forward as a full bill during the next legislative session, Baker stood his ground during the hourlong debate.
“If this wasn’t a problem, seven other states would not have done this,” Baker said.
The amendment was approved by the House. The overarching bill was also given initial approval with a vote of 100-49.