Senate Bill 725 passed the House earlier this month on a party-line vote, with Republicans voting for it and Democrats against. It cleared the state Senate Monday by a similar vote and heads to Gov. Roy Cooper, who can sign it into law or block it with a veto.
Cooper's press office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Republicans pitched the bill as a common-sense measure to improve public confidence in elections. It "raises suspicions" when private groups help cover election costs, said Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus.
Several million dollars, to buy single-use pens and pay poll workers, were distributed last year to help North Carolina election officials run an election in a pandemic. Much of it flowed through a nonprofit funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife.
According to the State Board of Elections, the group, the Center for Tech & Civil Life, gave:
- $1 million to buy 6 million pens that were distributed to counties
- $2.28 million to pay early voting workers bonuses
- $1.4 million to mail voters around the state about voting by mail and in-person safety measures at the polls
Thirty-five local boards of election also applied for CTCL grants, according to the state elections board. Ten applied for grants from the Arnold Schwarzenegger Institute.
The state also got hand sanitizer from Anheuser-Busch and about $130,000 in free Facebook ads used to recruit poll workers, State Board of Elections spokesman Pat Gannon said.
Newton pressed his Democratic colleagues to support the bill, saying the next election cycle might bring donations from right-leaning groups.
“What if it had been coming from the Koch brothers?" said Newton, referring to the wealthy family that funds a range of conservative groups.
“I don’t understand why there should be any controversy about this," he said, calling elections a "quintessential" government function.
Election officials have complained in the past, though, that elections are underfunded. And Democrats said they see the bill as one more way for Republicans to weaken faith in elections, fueling what Democrats refer to as the "Big Lie" – claims that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.
"This bill continues to traffic the big lie," Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, said during Monday's Senate debate.