AG Landry’s beef with Zuckerberg over election grants sent back to trial court

CTCL denied motion to dismiss

By: - June 29, 2022 9:46 pm
Jeff Landry sues ULM med school over vaccine mandate

The Louisiana Supreme Court has agreed to consider a lawsuit state Attorney General Jeff Landry filed to stop a nonprofit group from providing election assistance grants to local officials. The group has significant backing from Meta and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Louisiana Supreme Court has upheld an appellate court ruling to reverse the dismissal of a lawsuit that Attorney General Jeff Landry filed against a nonprofit organization that tried to donate money to election officials across the state to pay for tents, water, signs and other basic supplies they needed to hold the 2020 presidential election. 

In a 4-3 decision Tuesday, the state justices voted against a motion to dismiss the case filed by the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonpartisan organization that donated hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to governments across the country to assist them with elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The case will be reheard in district court.

The Louisiana lawsuit began when Meta co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan gave $250 million to the organization, making the grants available to virtually every local government in the country. Landry has been engaged in a one-sided feud with Zuckerberg, filing lawsuits against his companies and criticizing him on social media. The billionaire has never personally responded. 

When Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin learned about the Center for Tech and Civic Life program, he checked into it and held a conference call with parish clerks and voter registrars statewide, in which he urged them all to apply for the grants ahead of the 2020 election. 

Louisiana attorney general blocked millions in grant money awarded to parish clerks

When the attorney general got wind of Ardoin’s conference call, he stopped the clerks from receiving the donations and filed suit against the nonprofit. 

Calcasieu Parish, which had been devastated by Hurricane Laura, was one of many parishes awarded more than $500,000 for its election expenses but was forced to turn down the money.

Landry has justified the lawsuit as a matter of “election integrity” to stop private donors from covering election-related supplies and expenses. 

The Center for Tech and Civic Life has published a list of the primary donors on its website.

The St. Martin Parish 16th Judicial District Court dismissed Landry’s lawsuit. That ruling was reversed and remanded on appeal, and the state Supreme Court upheld that decision.

A 3rd Circuit appellate panel found that the lower court erred when it defined parish registrars of voters and clerks of court as parish officials with the constitutional authority of political subdivisions to “acquire property for any public purpose by purchase, donation, expropriation, exchange, or otherwise” as detailed in the Louisiana Constitution. 

Rather, according to the appellate panel, clerks of court and parish registrars are state officials who operate within a limited geographical jurisdiction. As state officials, they may not acquire property or funding in the same manner as would a local or parish government. 

The appeals court noted that seven similar federal lawsuits against the Center for Tech and Civic Life filed in other states have all been dismissed. The donations at issue in those cases “were offered to and accepted by the counties or cities holding the elections rather than by election officials such as registrars of voters and clerks of court.”

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Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly reported the next venue for the lawsuit. The Louisiana Supreme Court has been remanded the case back to state district court. 

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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 years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Among his recognitions are 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. Muller is an alumnus of Jesuit High School and the University of New Orleans and is a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Louisiana with his wife and two sons.

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