U.S. Rep. Jody Hice is running to be Georgia Secretary of State on a platform of false claims about the 2020 election.
Hice, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, says he will be tougher on election integrity than his Republican rival, incumbent Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Raffensperger drew Trump’s wrath after he disputed Trump’s false statements about a stolen election.
Hice told Fox 5 news anchor Russ Spencer on May 5 that the election “reeked of fraudulent activity.” Spencer responded that the FBI, state investigators and Trump’s attorney general, Bill Barr, found no credible allegations of widespread fraud. Spencer asked Hice about a phone call that Trump had with Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021, when Trump made a raft of false claims, such as that thousands of dead people had voted.
Hice defended Trump, saying that there were other numbers Trump didn’t bring up, including the “$50 million of Zuckerberg money that Brad Raffensperger used to tip the scales.”
Hice’s campaign did not respond to our emails asking for his evidence. Hice’s statement gave a distorted picture of a grant awarded to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office and inflated the size of that grant ninefold.
Grants were given to about half the states in 2020 for voter outreach
In 2020, election officials faced an expensive and unprecedented challenge: pulling off a safe national election during a pandemic. The 2020 pandemic relief package known as the CARES Act included $400 million in election funding. But that wasn’t enough to cover all of the new expenses, which would include a massive increase in voting by mail.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, formed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, stepped forward to help close the gap. The initiative gave money to nonprofits to then award grants to election offices. The nonprofits selected the recipients, not the Zuckerberg Initiative. The Center for Election Innovation & Research oversaw the distribution of about $65 million.
The center, founded in 2016 by David Becker — previously the director of the elections program at The Pew Charitable Trusts — works with secretaries of state to help them maintain accurate voter registration lists and secure election technology.
The goal of the grants was to help states pay for nonpartisan voter outreach. The center invited all states to apply. The 23 that responded received the amount of money they requested. Seven of those state agencies were led by Republican election officials, while 10 were led by Democratic election officials, and six were led by nonpartisan or bipartisan boards of elections. Georgia received about $5.6 million.
States could spend money on direct mail, ads, and other communications such as establishing voter hotlines. In Georgia, the money was spent on TV ads.
Hice said that Raffensperger used the money to “tip the scales” — suggesting Raffensperger wanted to aid or disadvantage a particular candidate. We found no evidence of such a scheme.
So where does Hice’s $50 million figure come from? It’s possible that he was referring to a separate set of grants, also from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, of $350 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life. That organization distributed grants nationwide to 2,500 local elections offices. Dozens of counties in Georgia applied and received funds that added up to about $45 million. Local election offices used the grants to pay for staff, personal protective equipment and election equipment to sort absentee ballots.
Some Republican state lawmakers across the nation objected to populous Democratic strongholds getting the largest amounts of money through that initiative, although every jurisdiction in red and blue areas that applied received money. Grants ranged from $5,000 for small townships to $19 million for New York City.
Raffensperger’s office said that he had no authority to prevent counties from receiving the grants.
The Georgia State Assembly in 2021 was among many GOP-led states that later passed a ban on local election officials accepting private grants.
Hice is one of many election deniers running for office in 2022
Hice is among the Republican candidates challenging Raffensperger in the May 24 primary. If no candidate wins more than 50%, the top two vote getters will advance to a June 21 runoff.
Hice has repeatedly denied the reality that Biden won the presidential race. He backed the unsuccessful case before the U.S. Supreme Court that sought to overturn results in a few states including Georgia. Hice also objected to accepting Georgia’s electoral college votes on Jan. 6, 2021.
Hice told the Washington Post in February, “Yes, I believe Trump won. If we were to get an accurate count of the votes in Georgia, I believe absolutely Trump won Georgia.” Raffensperger has defended his handling of the 2020 election in Georgia, where the results were backed up by three counts.
Hice said that Georgia’s secretary of state used “$50 million of Zuckerberg money” in 2020 to “tip the scales.”
In 2020, the Secretary of State received a $5.6 million grant from the Center for Election Innovation and Research for nonpartisan voter outreach. But Georgia had plenty of company – 23 states, led by both Republican and Democrat officials, received grants. There is no evidence that Raffensperger used the money to “tip the scales.”
Dozens of counties in Georgia received grants from the Center for Tech and Civic Life that added up to about $45 million, but Raffensperger had no say in which counties applied for grants. Both grant programs were funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to help election officials cover the extra expenses of administering elections amid a pandemic.
Hice has distorted the amount of grant money received by Raffensperger and the purpose.
We rate this statement False.
This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.