Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, speaking remotely to the American Bar Association on Monday, called for “educating voters” about supposed GOP efforts underway to “undermine democracy,” but questions remain regarding her role with the “voter education” efforts of a Mark Zuckerberg-funded nonprofit she founded.
Benson is a former president of the Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration (MCELA), an organization that received $12 million in grants from the D.C.-based Center for Election Innovation and Research. The latter was funded in 2020 to the tune of $69 million by Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook.
During the 2020 election cycle, Benson, who had remained head of MCELA until that February, lauded the group in her official capacity as secretary of state. MCELA has touted itself as a source of “nonpartisan voter education” and indicated it would reach out to voters with mailers and advertisements to help them navigate the process of requesting and utilizing absentee ballots.
Yet, as The Michigan Star has reported, MCELA is run almost entirely by partisan Democrats. Its treasurer, Ned Staebler, who has donated to numerous Democratic campaigns, authorized payment of almost the entire $12 million MCELA possessed in 2020 to two Democrat-aligned media-strategy companies: D.C.-based Waterfront Strategies and Grosse Pointe, MI-based Alper Strategies. He also blasted two Wayne County Republican election officials as “racists” for not initially voting to certify election results based on concerns about accuracy.
In her remarks to the American Bar Association, Benson expressed her view that private entities should play a major role in the election process.
“It’s going to take that ongoing engagement and priority for all of us in every industry, from media to law to government to everywhere in between—in the tech industry—to protect that democracy for all of us,” she said. She opined that “we’re in the middle, if not the early stages, of an ongoing battle for our democracy. And the 2020 election is behind us. We successfully protected the results of the election against a historic effort to undermine them….”
In a recent interview with lawyer-journalist Kimberly Wehle, Benson lamented what she called “efforts by those in power to deceive voters and the public about their rights, about the sanctity of the elections, about the security of the process, to further their own political agenda.” She said she was speaking of arguments that the 2020 election was not legitimate and of legislative endeavors to make elections more secure.
Benson did not respond to an email for comment about whether MCELA could be relied on to pursue a nonpartisan agenda.
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Bradley Vasoli is a reporter at The Michigan Star and The Star News Network. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Voting Booths” by Tim Evanson. CC BY-SA 2.0.