Kansas GOP candidate accepted money from Zuckerberg, then embraced false claims of voter fraud

TOPEKA — As Johnson County Commissioner in 2020, Mike Brown hailed the “nice surprise” of money from Mark Zuckerberg to support the expansion of advance voting.

Now, as an election denier seeking the GOP nomination for secretary of state, Brown opposes the use of grants funded by the Facebook mogul and vows to ban ballot boxes on his first day in office. . His campaign has launched a far-right attack on Republican Secretary of State Scott Schwab, who is seeking re-election as the state’s top election official.

Brown used Zuckerberg’s social media platform to falsely claim that Schwab had accepted grants from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a Chicago-based nonprofit funded by a $350 million donation from Zuckerberg. . In effect, Schwab allowed local officials to decide whether or not to seek private grants during the pandemic-ravaged election cycle.

At an Oct. 8, 2020 county commission meeting, Brown offered to accept an $856,245 grant from CTCL after hearing a presentation from Election Commissioner Connie Schmidt on how the money could be used. to help process massive numbers of early ballots, expand early voting locations, provide hazard pay and train new staff.

“Nice, nice surprise,” Brown said. “Nice gift. Thank you very much. Great help. And I’m ready to make a motion.

Zuckerberg’s donation to CTCL has become a flashpoint for concerns about the potential for private money to influence elections – and an inspiration for false conspiracy theories. A state audit ordered by the legislature found there were no liabilities related to the $2.3 million in grants awarded to 25 Kansas counties. The money was used for election equipment, including face masks and sanitizer, as well as staff and real estate.

The state legislature, bolstered by Republican voters’ belief in President Donald Trump’s lies about the election results, banned the use of private grants as part of an electoral reform program in 2021.

Brown jumped on the Big Lie bandwagon, falsely claiming the results in Kansas had been marred by fraud and outraged Schwab, who has repeatedly said the Kansas election was safe and secure.

In a March 27 post on his campaign’s Facebook account, Brown complained that Schwab had accepted money from Zuckerberg.

“The majority of the money was used to support early voting options in person — AND — voting by mail,” Brown said. “Scott Schwab had an obligation to ‘know or should have known’ who was behind it all before opening the floodgates to Zuck-Bucks. The money was slipped under the innocuous name ‘Center for Technology and Life civic” (CTCL)…but that was a cover for who it was really behind the scenes. Schwab failed in his duty as Kansas state election officer – AGAIN – and the Kansas election was compromised by ‘Asleep-At-The Wheel Schwab’.

Brown did not respond to a phone call and email from Kansas Reflector seeking comment on the funding he previously backed.

Schwab’s campaign, in a statement released for this story, said the decision to request and accept “Zuckerbucks” was left to each county.

“Brown said the Kansas election was jeopardized by accepting Zuckerbucks, but he led the charge to accept more than $850,000 in money from Zuckerberg for the Johnson County election, even calling the grant a “beautiful gift” and “great help”, said the Schwab. the campaign statement said. “As Johnson County Commissioner, Brown should have known who he was taking money from.

“Brown says one thing but does another. When someone shows you who they really are, believe them. Brown showed a lack of integrity by accepting private money for election administration and hypocritically passing the buck to himself.

The Kansas Legislative Division’s report on the use of CTCL grants included a written response from an election official, Crawford County Clerk Donald Pyle.

Pyle said most local Kansas election officials are already familiar with the nonprofit, which provided helpful tips on how to build easy-to-understand ballots and engage the public to increase turnout. electoral. The Legislative Assembly’s decision to ban the use of private grants for electoral operations is “particularly heartbreaking,” Pyle wrote, because the grants have saved taxpayers money.

“This distrust of local government officials has been very apparent over the past few years,” Pyle said. “I hope the Legislative Assembly will soon realize that we can be trusted to act in the best interests of our citizens.”

At the Johnson County Commission meeting on October 8, 2020, Schmidt said his election office could not have anticipated the cost of handling the 2020 election.

“We operated in a world of the unknown at the electoral office,” Schmidt said. “With things changing daily, we have become more of a courier operation. Our voters normally vote in person, which is a fairly simple transaction. Vote everyone by mail, I have always described the people, the paper, the postage and the process. And we are heavy in this area.

She said her office was on track to send out 140,000 advance ballots. Brown responded by presenting the motion for acceptance of the CTCL grant “to be used for the purpose of continuing to plan and operationalize safe and secure election administration in Johnson County, Kansas in 2020.”

Johnson County Commissioner Becky Fast said in an interview for this story that there were no apparent partisan ties to the grant money.

“We had to stipulate how the funds were allocated, and I was really excited for the risk premium,” Fast said. “I mean, we have 176 in-person polling places and being able, during very difficult times, to hire staff, give an extra $25 to each election worker, and make our polling places more accessible to people with disabilities and voters. at risk of COVID – this was, for me, much needed funds for the counties.

Fast said Brown voted with other commissioners to certify the results of the 2020 election, and was still complimentary of the election office.

“I never heard him express any concerns about the way our elections were handled when he was on the commission,” Fast said.

Brown lost his re-election bid for the county seat in the 2020 election.

In recent Facebook posts, Brown promised to clean up voter rolls across Kansas, eliminate drop boxes, and prosecute “all suspected election crimes.”

On Monday, he will attend an election integrity forum in Olathe, sponsored by a black money political action committee, to discuss “irregularities in Kansas voting procedures.” Admission is $25.

Former Fox Nation and CBS News personality Lara Logan — who promoted via her Truth Social account a conspiracy theory attributing the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol to a Ukrainian military operation — will moderate the event. The lineup includes prominent election deniers, including Colorado Secretary of State Tina Peters and Arizona Secretary of State Mark Finchem, who will join remotely. Kansas State Senators Mark Steffen, of Hutchinson, and Mike Thompson, of Shawnee, are scheduled panelists.

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