Legislature passes second attempt to prohibit election donations

Governor vetoed bill last year, calling it a ‘political ploy’

By: - May 20, 2021 8:12 pm
Louisiana Legislature passes bill to prohibit election donations

The For the People Act included sweeping voting rights, redistricting, campaign finance and ethics reform measures. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Louisiana Legislature passed a bill Thursday that would prohibit state and local officials from receiving money from private or nonprofit organizations to help defray election-related expenses — a measure that Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed last year.

House Bill 20, sponsored by Rep. Blake Miguez (R-Erath), is the second attempt by Republican lawmakers to prohibit the state from receiving the kind of donations that nonprofits offered last year to pay for expenses such as polling signs, tents, hand sanitizer, and personal protective equipment for poll workers.

On Thursday, the measure passed the Senate in a 26–11 party-line vote with Republicans in favor and Democrats against. The current bill differs from last year’s in that it would not apply to “the donation of private property for use as a polling place or to the donation or use of equipment for the restoration and maintenance of utilities to a precinct or polling place in the event of an outage.”

Miguez wrote last year’s bill after the nonpartisan nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life, in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, offered grants to jurisdictions around the country to help pay for election expenses. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $250 million. The CTCL also received funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Knight Foundation and Google, among other American companies and organizations. 

Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin was willing to receive the financial assistance and initially urged local court clerks and voter registrars to apply for the grants. However, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry accused Facebook of having a left-leaning agenda and told the election officials they’d be violating the law if they took it. 

Miguez argued then that it was already illegal for any Louisiana election official to receive such help, but he also argued that lawmakers needed to pass his bill declaring such help illegal.

Landry then filed a civil suit against CTCL in an attempt to prohibit the program, alleging the organization targeted specific areas of the state into which to pump money for “an inherently insidious and corrupting effect.” A judge in the 16th Judicial District in St. Martin Parish ruled against the attorney general but not in enough time for the state’s election officials to reapply for help before November’s presidential election. 

Election officials in Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin had already received CTCL grants when Louisiana election officials were notified that they too would receive the money. 

In his Oct. 27 veto message of last year’s bill, Gov. Edwards wrote, “Neither the bill’s author nor the Attorney General’s Office was able to point to the statutory conflict House Bill 51 is purportedly intended to resolve….House Bill 51 is an unnecessary political ploy that only serves to threaten the safety of polling places during a pandemic and increase the costs to taxpayers to administer safe elections.”

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the following 22 years since then, he has worked as a journalist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. Much of his work has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and watchdog coverage of municipal and state government. He has received several honors and recognitions, including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper, and an adjunct English teacher at Baton Rouge Community College. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his teenage son and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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