Thomas More Society Special Counsel Testifies in Congress on Election Integrity

May 24, 2023
Joe Barnas

Thor Hearne, Special Counsel for the Thomas More Society, testified on May 24 before the Subcommittee on Elections of the Committee on House Administration, in the United States House of Representatives.

Providing oral and written testimony, Hearne spoke on the need to approach election integrity in a bipartisan manner and stressed the recommendations of the 2005 Carter-Baker Commission as a foundation upon which new reforms should rely upon.

No matter which side of the aisle one finds themselves on, the need to restore trust in elections has never been greater. “As American citizens, we share a common interest in assuring our elections are fair, honest, and accessible to every eligible voter,” Hearne testified. “We also share a common interest in assuring that the outcome reflects the will of the voters and was not engineered by disenfranchising some voters or by partisan manipulation of the election process.”

“Congress recognizes the fact that we've got a problem,” Hearne said. The committee’s hearing was therefore geared to exploring how to increase confidence in the election process. “A vast majority of citizens do not think that they have equal access to the ballot, or if they do cast a ballot, that their ballot will not be fairly and equally counted,” he added.

In order to repair our nation’s flagging confidence in elections, Hearne recommended that lawmakers pursue election reform through three core measures: implementing voter identification laws, verifying that voter registration rolls are current and accurate, and eliminating the use of private money for election administration.

“We have hotly contested elections in this country. When we get a result, we need to have confidence in the process,” Hearne added. “And the process by which the election is conducted is the manner by which we have confidence that it's a fair and honest expression of the will of voters.”

Repairing trust by barring the influence of special interests

Both Hearne’s testimony and the Thomas More Society’s election integrity efforts underscore the problem of private financial influence plaguing the public election administration system.

In January 2023, The Wall Street Journal publicized that a nonprofit called the Center for Technology and Civic Life, or CTCL—funded by Mark Zuckerberg—admitted to giving out about $350 million to nearly 2,500 election departments throughout the 2020 election season. This scheme has popularly been dubbed “Zuckerbucks.”

“These private funds were paid to election officials in favored urban (heavily-Democrat) jurisdictions to increase voter turn-out and increase the ballots cast in these favored precincts,” Hearne wrote in his testimony.

In some cases, the money paid to election jurisdictions was close to half of the cost of conducting the election, according to Hearne. All this was conducted in the dark during the election season, and not disclosed publicly by CTCL until the following year, in the required IRS filings. Moreover, the required disclosures from CTCL do not reveal the sources of funding—in this instance, Zuckerberg.

“You shouldn't let private money go for election administration in the first place, but to the extent you do, it should be disclosed. Currently, it's not,” Hearne said.

Ultimately, there ought to be a blanket prohibition on election officials accepting money from private interest groups and wealthy individuals. In practice, such a massive scale of private financial influence on election administration results is disparate outcomes—and an unfair partisan advantage. Private money for election administration is “disparate in terms of how it's distributed,” Hearne added. “It's not fairly distributed to benefit all voters. These funds were largely paid to certain favored precincts for partisan reasons.”

In such a way, these practices are not only unfair to American voters, but may even violate the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. “This is nothing more than a privately funded get-out-the-vote effort,” Hearne noted—operated by way of public election administration.

“This is not specific to Mark Zuckerberg. I don't care if it's Elon Musk, the Koch brothers, or any billionaire. No one should have this ability to come in, pay money to election officials, then tell them how to run the election,” he added.“That's just fundamentally fraudulent—it shouldn't be allowed. And the fact that Michigan and some other states have allowed it is outrageous.”

Hearne’s testimony was buttressed by his long pedigree of bipartisan election reform work, as well as experience in election-related litigation. Hearne previously was legal counsel for President George W. Bush in Bush-Cheney 2000 v. Evelyn Baker, and the President’s national election counsel in 2004. Later, he served as legal advisor to Secretary of State James Baker and President Jimmy Carter in the 2005 Carter-Baker Commission. Hearne also served as lead counsel representing voters in St. Louis County, Missouri in a redistricting case—where he worked closely with the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP. Additionally, he was also previously appointed by Virginia’s Democrat Attorney General Mark Herring the defend the Commonwealth’s election reform legislation in 2016.