Congressional candidate and current State Representative Steve Carra (R-59) is calling for a legislative investigation into the role of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in funnelling outside money into the 2020 election.
Carra is a first-term Republican representative for House District 59 in Southwest Michigan and has been a leader of the movement to audit the November 3 election.
“We have the ability and authority to subpoena records and witnesses. I would love to use subpoena powers to get to the bottom of what happened in the last election,” Carra told The Michigan Star in an exclusive interview.
The Star broke the story on August 5 of how an obscure nonprofit, the Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration (MCELA), received a $12 million grant to support its purported purpose of “nonpartisan voter education” and then turned all but a sliver of the money over to two Democratic political consulting firms for a get-out-the-vote campaign.
Benson founded MCELA in 2008 and served as president of the board for most of its existence up to and including 2020, two years after she was elected as secretary of state. Benson’s assistant secretary of state, Heaster Wheeler, also served as a director of the MCELA from sometime in 2018 until at least February 28, 2020.
It is unclear exactly when Benson and Wheeler left the MCELA board, but it was not until September 2020 that their names no longer appear as board members in the annual report. Perhaps not coincidentally, that is the same month when the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), a nonprofit funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, gave the $12 million grant to MCELA for the putative purpose of helping Michigan voters figure out how to navigate the supposed complexities of mail-in ballots.
Benson’s role in applying for and spending the grant money remains uncertain but “it needs to be investigated,” said Carra, who is currently running in the Republican primary to unseat Rep. Fred Upton in Michigan’s 6th Congressional District. Upton infamously voted to impeach President Donald Trump for insurrection after the January 6 Capitol incursion.
In June, Carra sponsored HB 5091 to create an independent election audit board to investigate the 2020 election in Michigan. That bill, which is currently before the House Committee on Government Operations, would not investigate the role of outside money and third party organizations in election activities, but Carra said the Legislature needs to make that a priority as well.
“We need to do an investigation into where the large corporations and governments are working together to influence elections. It’s a very problematic situation,” Carra said, pointing specifically to the role of Zuckerberg in Michigan’s election.
“These large tech companies have too big an influence on the government. Many of my colleagues [in the Legislature] are talking about the Zuck-a-bucks. As of yesterday, we are back in session full-time and it resonates with a lot of my colleagues.”
Earlier in September, a Republican Party leader told The Star that the chair of the House Oversight Committee intended to hold hearings on Zuckerberg’s influence on the 2020 election and the role of the Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration in spending most of a $12 million grant on get-out-the-vote campaigns run by two Democratic political consulting firms.
“Rep. Steve Johnson is aware of the story and is waiting to schedule a hearing when the Legislature is in session later this month,” said Paul Cordes, the Michigan GOP chief of staff.
Benson’s role could be key to any investigation. Although she left the board of MCELA sometime before September 2020, she remained the public face of the organization through the election season. Between October 5 and October 28, 2020, MCELA posted a total of 10 times to its Facebook page. On October 8, the profile picture on the account was changed to a portrait of Benson. Then silence until October 28, one week before Election Day. On that day, six posts featuring Secretary of State Benson were posted, including two copies of the same 30-second video, and three images of would-be voters featuring the posted words of Benson.
“These are uncertain times for all of us, but one thing is certain. Your vote will count. I’m Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and you have many secure options to vote this fall.” That’s how the 30-second spot starts. Then, with the remaining 17 seconds, Benson explains just how easy it is to vote in one of three ways.
Most of the $11.8 million spent on voter education by MCELA didn’t go to Facebook. Actually, there were only two expenditures reported in 2020 by MCELA, both for “media strategy and purchase.” The biggest, for $9,799,407, went to Waterfront Strategies in Washington, D.C., a firm that specializes in handling media buys for Democrat and left-wing interest groups. Waterfront Strategies is an in-house subsidiary of GMMB, the largest Democratic consulting firm in the United States. GMMB was instrumental in electing Barack Obama and countless other Democrat office holders.
The remaining $2,088,000 in reported expenditures went to Alper Strategies of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, which is also a Democrat controlled organization. Founder Jill Alper was previously the political director and coordinated campaign director of the Democratic National Committee.
It is unclear which of these two Democrat consulting firms managed the MCELA’s Facebook account.
Finding out how the money was spent could be key to determining whether there was an effort to increase Democrat turnout to help Joe Biden in the presidential election.
Carra said that Benson “had a process where she was looking to find out how voter turnout can be increased in the 100 precincts that had the lowest turnout” in previous elections.
“To me, that seems politically driven,” said Carra, “because it is well known that the lower the turnout [to start with], if they did turn out more voters, they are more likely to vote Democratic. That, to me, is offensive.”
Whether there was any coordination between the secretary of state’s office MCELA over how the Zuckerberg money was used is unknown.
The current board president of MCELA, Jen McKernan, did not respond to an inquiry from The Star for information on how the Zuckerberg money was spent. Neither did Waterfront Strategies nor Alper Strategies. They are not directly accountable to the public, perhaps explaining why the $12 million grant went to the nonprofit instead of the secretary of state’s office, which would have had to be transparent in its accounting.
If Michigan legislators do hold hearings on how third-party funding was used to influence public elections, then MCELA’s board members, both past and present, would likely be on the list of witnesses. So too would the owners or directors of Waterfront Strategies and Alper Strategies.
Carra, who has been endorsed by President Trump in his race against Upton, said that he is an America First candidate who wants to know what really happened in the 2020 election.
“The people in my community believe in election integrity. They believe in fair, honest elections. We need a full forensic audit of the last election. It’s insulting to the people to have so many election integrity bills be introduced yet not review what happened in 2020,” Carra said.
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Senior investigative reporter Frank Daniel Miele is the author of “What Matters Most: God, Country, Family and Friends.” Visit him at HeartlandDiaryUSA.com to read his archived commentary or follow him on Facebook @HeartlandDiaryUSA or on Twitter or Gettr @HeartlandDiary. Email him at [email protected] with news tips.
Photo “Mark Zuckerberg” by Anthony Quintano. CC BY 2.0.