In A Flash

Governor vetoes bill that sought to prohibit election grant money

By: - October 26, 2020 5:07 pm
Voters exit a precinct at the Lake Charles Civic Center

Voters exit a precinct at the Lake Charles Civic Center. (Photo by JC Canicosa / Louisiana Illuminator)

Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday that he has vetoed a bill that would have prohibited local election officials from using nonprofit grant money to pay for election-related expenses. 

House Bill 51, introduced by Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, sought to prohibit registrars of voters and clerks of court from accepting grant money from private individuals or nonprofit organizations to fund election-related expenses — even though Miguez claimed accepting such money was illegal already.

Miguez introduced the legislation after Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry told parish clerks to reject millions of dollars from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonpartisan nonprofit funded by some of America’s staple corporations and charitable organizations, including Google, Facebook, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Knight Foundation. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have committed up to $350 million for the program, making the grant available to local governments across the country. The money can be used for things such as polling signs, tents, personal protective equipment and virtually any other election-related materials or services.

Several Louisiana parishes, including those devastated by Hurricanes Laura and Delta, were awarded millions before Landry warned the clerks they could face legal consequences if they accepted the money. The attorney general, who has long been at odds with Google and Facebook for having what he perceives as left-leaning agendas, later filed a lawsuit against CTCL in St. Martin Parish, claiming the grant would have “an inherently insidious and corrupting effect.”

Last week, however, Judge Lewis Pittman of the 16th Judicial District, dismissed two of the defendants, a lobbyist and her company, from the lawsuit. In response, the attorney general told the Advocate that he plans to appeal. CTCL remains a defendant in the case.

Defending his bill in front of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee on Oct. 7, Miguez and an assistant attorney general claimed the bill’s purpose was to “clarify existing law.” The pair couldn’t point to the specific statutory language that needed clarification, saying only that the election laws appear under Title 18, Sections 1400.1 to 1400.8.

The governor touched on those same issues in his letter to House Speaker Clay Shexnayder on Tuesday, writing that he vetoed HB 51 because neither the bill’s author nor the attorney general could cite the law that purportedly needs clarification.

“Money from the grant could have been used for personal protection equipment, polling place sanitization, social distancing signs, etc.,” Edwards wrote. “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 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.