Private election grants weren’t bribes, Dane Co. Judge says

By: - June 2, 2022 3:06 pm
Erick Kaardal delivers remarks to members of the Wisconsin Assembly elections committee at the State Capitol in Madison, Wis., on March 1, 2022. Kaardal and the nonprofit law firm, Thomas More Society, are playing unofficial but central roles in the ongoing investigation into Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential election. (John Hart / Wisconsin State Journal)

Erick Kaardal delivers remarks to members of the Wisconsin Assembly elections committee at the State Capitol in Madison, Wis., on March 1, 2022. A Dane County judge has rejected Kardaal's claim that private grants to the City of Madison to help administer the 2020 election were bribes. (John Hart | Wisconsin State Journal)

A Dane County judge on Wednesday denied a right-wing lawyer’s lawsuit alleging that private grants the City of Madison received to assist with administering the 2020 election constituted bribery

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Ehlke affirmed a previous decision by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, dismissing a complaint brought by Erick Kaardal, a lawyer for the Thomas More Society who has been heavily involved in efforts to cast doubt on Wisconsin’s 2020 election results. Ehlke had previously said Kaardal’s claims were “ridiculous.” 

Kaardal and the Thomas More Society, which has been assisting Michael Gableman’s partisan review of the election, brought the complaint against Madison alleging that city officials violated the law prohibiting election bribery when they accepted grant money from the Chicago-based Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL). 

The CTCL, which was partially funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, donated millions of dollars to municipalities across the country to help cover the costs associated with holding an election during a pandemic. Hundreds of municipalities in Wisconsin received grant money, but a majority of it went to the five largest, and most heavily Democratic voting, cities. 

Republicans have disparagingly referred to the grant funds as “Zuckerbucks,” and argued the money counted as bribery because more of it went to the liberal-leaning cities. Every municipality which applied for grant funding received some, and state law does not prohibit the acceptance of private election grants. 

Ehlke’s decision is another in a long line of court rulings across the state and country that the grants didn’t count as bribery — yet the allegation has become a central piece of Republicans’ baseless attacks on election administration.


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.