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The grant money went to more than 200 cities in Wisconsin, including many Republican ones, not just the five heavily Democratic ones mentioned.
What’s more, multiple lawsuits challenging the grants were filed, none of which were successful. In one case, a U.S. District judge appointed by President George W. Bush refused to block the grant money.
An appeals court later held that those who brought the lawsuit failed to identify any laws that would prohibit the grants.
Michael Gableman, the former state Supreme Court justice overseeing a Republican-ordered, taxpayer-funded review of Wisconsin’s long-settled 2020 election, has made many factually-challenged statements.
But one in particular caught our attention during his March 7, 2022 appearance on Fox News’ "Tucker Carlson Tonight."
It came in this tangle of a response to a request from Carlson to give an overview of his findings:
"We had a wave of massive election bribery, in which government officials in the five Zuckerberg-sponsored cities participated, as well as what you related when you introduced your audience (to) me, which is the government sponsored elder abuse, all to wring out votes from people who frankly were victimized by the very people at the Wisconsin Elections Commission who are supposed to keep our voters safe."
There’s a lot going on there – and there was a lot in the rest of the interview.
But this is the claim we are pulling out: That five Wisconsin cities received money for the 2020 election from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, which amounted to "a wave of massive election bribery."
The appearance came soon after Gableman gave an update on his review to a state Assembly committee on March 1, 2022. Although a judge found little evidence of work having been done, Gableman has been given more time by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, to complete his work – which originally was to be done in October.
Is Gableman, a former member of the state’s top court, right about a "massive wave of bribery"?
According to multiple court rulings: No.
Indeed, he is ridiculously wrong.
Let’s start with a little background:
First, recounts and the courts have repeatedly confirmed that Democrat Joe Biden defeated Republican Donald Trump by nearly 21,000 votes in 2020 in Wisconsin. A legislative audit and study by a conservative group found no signs of significant voter fraud.
Nevertheless, Vos – who has publicly stated Wisconsin’s electoral votes cannot be rescinded – named Gableman as special counsel and gave him a taxpayer-funded budget of $676,000 to complete a review. Vos and Gableman reached a new agreement March 8, 2022, that extends his work until at least April.
On March 1, 2022, Gableman issued a wide-ranging report to an Assembly committee that included this claim:
"The Center for Tech and Civic Life’s $8,800,000 Zuckerberg Plan Grant with the Cities of Milwaukee, Madison, Racine, Kenosha and Green Bay (the Zuckerberg 5 Cities) violates Wisconsin law prohibiting election bribery."
Those grants are what Gableman was referring to on the Carlson show. And that’s what Gableman’s staff pointed us to when we asked for backup to the claim.
The Center for Tech and Civic Life, a national nonprofit organization, used $350 million in donations from Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, to issue grants aimed at helping local governments conduct safe elections during the COVID pandemic.
The group told PolitiFact Wisconsin it issued nearly 2,500 grants nationwide and that every eligible office that applied received at least some money. More than half went to election offices that serve less than 25,000 registered voters.
The money arrived as local election budgets were drained by spending on election workers, postage and printing for the increasing number of voters who wanted to vote by mail.
All told, $10 million in grants went to more than 200 communities across Wisconsin, including many in Republican areas. So, Gableman is wrong to suggest the money went only to five.
He and Republicans have trained their fire – and ire – on the $8.8 million that went to the state's five largest cities, which are home to many Democratic voters. That’s about 90 percent of the total distributed in the state.
More importantly, the grants have been upheld by the courts.
"As former state Supreme Court Justice, Michael Gableman should know better than anyone that these baseless claims of ‘bribery’ were heard before the election and were rejected in court multiple times," the center said in a statement to PolitiFact Wisconsin.
In one of the many lawsuits, U.S. District Judge William Griesbach, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, a Republican, refused to block the grant money, saying there was nothing in state law "that can be fairly construed as prohibiting the defendant Cities from accepting funds from CTCL."
Later, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on an appeal of that case that those who brought the lawsuit failed to identify any laws that would prohibit the grants.
Gableman has argued that various communities are the recipients of the "bribe," never mind that he only focuses on five communities – and not the 195-plus more that received the same money. In his view, what Zuckerberg got for the "bribe" is the president he wanted.
But it’s unclear why he would have then given the money to communities poised to deliver votes to Donald Trump, or have spent money in states where the outcome was never in doubt, instead of just swing states like Wisconsin.
Gableman said five Wisconsin cities received money for the 2020 election from Mark Zuckerberg, which amounted to "a wave of massive election bribery."
But far more than five cities received the money. Gableman is ignoring ones in largely Republican areas. And courts have repeatedly upheld the grants as lawful, not bribery – much less a "massive wave" of bribery. As a former state Supreme Court justice, that’s a point Gableman should be familiar with.
That makes the claim ridiculous. We rate it Pants on Fire.
Email, Gableman spokesman Zakory Niemierowicz, March 15, 2022
Media Matters for America Fox News "Tucker Carlson Tonight," transcript March 7, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Auditors find voting machines work properly, say election officials should adopt formal rules on drop boxes," Jan. 7, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Conservative group finds no signs of widespread voter fraud in Wisconsin but urges changes to election processes," Dec. 7, 2021.
Office of the Special Counsel "Second Interim Investigative Report On the Apparatus & Procedures of the Wisconsin Elections System," March 1, 2022
USA Today, "2020 Presidential Election Results & Electoral Map," Jan. 7, 2021
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel " 'Much to-do about nothing': Gableman gets new contract as judge releases records showing little evidence of investigation," March 8, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Republicans focus on election grants to five cities that favor Democrats, but more than 200 Wisconsin communities got funds,"March 31, 2021
NBC15 News "Breaking down the ‘Zuckerberg 5′ in Wisconsin election report; CTCL derides allegations," March 2, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Gableman report to Wisconsin Republicans promotes legally debunked effort to decertify 2020 election," March 1, 2022
Wisconsin Examiner "Gableman’s contract extended through April," March 9, 2022
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