Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, for a second year in a row, vetoed Tuesday legislation by the House Republican majority leader that would have forbidden private contributions from defraying election costs.

House Bill 20 is his first veto of the 2021 session. The governor has signed 117 bills into law, so far.

“While in committee there was overheated rhetoric about the motivations of social media companies trying to influence elections, this bill would also likely prevent the local VFW from providing donuts for election workers on election day,” Edwards wrote in his veto message.

House Republican Majority Leader Blake Miguez, who represents Erath and sponsors HB20, said: “It is disappointing that the governor thinks it’s okay to let private funds, like Zuckerbucks, pay for state run elections ultimately influencing the outcome.” He was referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who last year donated $250 million to the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civil Life, which offered grants to help pay increased election expenses for state and local jurisdictions.

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In addition to Facebook, the Chicago-based group’s funders include Google, the Knight Foundation, the Voting Information Project, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The group helped state and local elections officials pay for ballot drop boxes to receive mail ballots, temporary staffing, supplies and personal protection equipment in what turned out to be a record turnout in November 2020 despite COVID-19.

Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican rumored to be interested in running for governor in 2023, joined other GOP lawmakers in branding Zuckerberg as a liberal, calling the contributions illegal and improper.

“Studies show these dollars were used in other states as a get out the vote effort by special interest to support one particular candidate over another,” Miguez said, adding that he is weighing his options on whether to seek an override to Edwards’s veto in the remaining hours of the 2020 legislative session, which must adjourn by 6 p.m. Thursday.

Edwards noted that Miguez’s bill from last year, which he also vetoed, attempted to change emergency elections procedures necessary – and ordered by a federal court--- for holding the elections during the pandemic. This year’s version expanded the ban to all elections.

Miguez said Louisiana has a compelling interest in maintaining a free and fair election system. “If outside interests want to provide money to the state to help pay for elections, it should be given to the state general fund and appropriated equitably across every parish,” he said.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.