A federal judge has rejected an attempt by a conservative group to block private grant funding awarded to five Wisconsin cities to help run elections during the pandemic.
U.S. District Judge William Griesbach ruled Wednesday that there was nothing in the law that prevented the cities of Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee and Racine from accepting more than $6.3 million in private grant funding.
The grant money came from an organization called The Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), a group funded in part by a donation from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.
A group of Wisconsin plaintiffs, who organized under the name "Wisconsin Voters Alliance," sued with the help of The Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based conservative law firm.
Their lawsuit argued that the grant funding was purposely directed to cities with a history of supporting Democrats, equating the funding to election "bribery." It also argued that private grants to run public elections were not permitted under state and federal law and the U.S. Constitution.
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But on Wednesday, Griesbach denied their motion to block the funding, ruling that their lawsuit was unlikely to succeed.
"These are all matters that may merit a legislative response but the Court finds nothing in the statutes Plaintiffs cite, either directly or indirectly, that can be fairly construed as prohibiting the defendant Cities from accepting funds from CTCL," Griesbach wrote. "Absent such a prohibition, the Court lacks the authority to enjoin them from accepting such assistance."
Griesbach noted that more than 100 other Wisconsin municipalities had also been awarded funding from the group.
Griesbach was nominated to the bench by former Republican President George W. Bush.
The Wisconsin Voters Alliance could appeal the ruling, although federal courts are sometimes cautious about making changes to election administration close to Election Day.