Government watchdog agency can’t figure out where 20% of federal election grant funding went

An audit by the Government Accountability Office could not account for a significant portion of Election Assistance Commission grants provide to states to assist with voting last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After Congress approved the CARES Act, which was designed as a pandemic relief measure, the commission received $400 million in grants, but thus far, the GAO has only accounted for $326 million of that money, meaning the watchdog agency does not know where or how roughly 20 percent of that money was spent, according to a November report.

Republicans in the House first voiced concerns about the election grants in September 2020 in relation to an item of expenditure in California. According to Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, the GAO’s analysis and findings provide validation for Republicans’ concerns that the problems are not limited to a single state.

“The potential for abuse is very high,” he told Fox News. “The EAC is supposed to be a watchdog, but it turns out it has been a bad actor, spending large sums of money with little transparency.”

The GAO audit found that EAC permitted states to implement 60 additional categories to spend the election grant money instead of limiting expenditures to five assigned categories.

“GAO found issues with how states and the EAC categorized expenditures involving nearly 20 percent of the total reported spending nationwide,” says the government watchdog’s audit. “As a result, in the EAC’s annual grant expenditure report to Congress, states’ expenditures for similar or the same items or activities could be included under multiple categories, making it difficult to consistently determine, by category, how states spent the grant funds.”

Some House Republicans first raised concerns about how CARES Act funding for elections was being spent after discovering a $35 million contract between SKDKnickerbocker, a Democratic political consulting firm, and the California Secretary of State’s office. At the time, the consulting firm was working for then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign.

The state used $12 million from an EAC grant to pay the contract use for the “Vote Safe California” program, Fox News reported.

“California, when it contracted with SKDKnickerbocker, engaged in microtargeting of voters,” Comer told the network. “To me, that’s what a political firm would do. Do we think they were microtargeting Republican voters?”

Comer went on to say that the massive amount of money involved almost certainly means that there were similar problems that occurred in other states.

The GAO’s audit was based on interviews with commission officials and a public data review. The agency cannot issue subpoenas or force the release of information, thereby limiting its ability to investigate.

There have been other integrity questions surrounding the 2020 elections.

In February, for instance, Time magazine reported on “a conspiracy unfolding behind the scenes,” in reference to what the outlet described as a “shadow campaign” that was formed to “oppose Trump’s assault on democracy” that featured a “cabal of powerful people” who worked together behind the scenes to “control the flow of information.”

“Their work touched every aspect of the election. They got states to change voting systems and laws and helped secure hundreds of millions in public and private funding. They fended off voter-suppression lawsuits, recruited armies of poll workers and got millions of people to vote by mail for the first time,” the magazine reported.

“They successfully pressured social media companies to take a harder line against disinformation and used data-driven strategies to fight viral smears. They executed national public-awareness campaigns that helped Americans understand how the vote count would unfold over days or weeks, preventing Trump’s conspiracy theories and false claims of victory from getting more traction,” the magazine continued, adding: “After Election Day, they monitored every pressure point to ensure that Trump could not overturn the result.”

The cabal was “not rigging the election; they were fortifying it,” Time claimed.

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Jon Dougherty

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