Non-profit

The Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration

Tax ID:

26-3393063

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Website:

http://michigancenterelectionlaw.org/

Location:

Detroit, Michigan

Type:

Voter Education Group

Founded:

2009 [25]

Founder:

Jocelyn Benson

President:

Jen McKernan

The Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration (MCLEA), originally the Richard Austin Center for Election Law and Administration, was founded in 2008 by now-Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D). The MCLEA claims to be nonpartisan, but is run by Democratic operatives and hires Democratic consulting firms.

MCELA did little for over a decade. Despite gaining tax-exempt status in 2010, MCELA only has one publicly available tax record in the year 2020 because its revenues had not surpassed the $50,000 threshold for filing public tax disclosures in previous years. [1]

In 2020, the MCELA received more than $12 million from the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), which is largely funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. The MCELA spent nearly the entire sum in a few months, with all funds going to Waterfront Strategies and Alper strategies, two Democratic political consulting firms.

Little information about the MCELA exists online. The group’s website is no longer operational. Benson led the group until 2019, [2] when Sally Marsh, a current subordinate of Benson’s in the Michigan statehouse, briefly took over as president. [3] In 2020, Marsh was succeeded by Jen McKernan, a director at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, [4] which has ties to Alper Strategies. [5] [6]

Funding

From 2010-2019, Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration had less than $50,000 in revenue. [7] The group’s only publicly disclosed tax form is for 2020, and shows that MCELA earned no money in 2019. [8] The Michigan Star has called MCELA a “corporate shell.” [9]

In the summer of 2020, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan donated $419 million to nonprofits to promote security and participation in the 2020 election. In August 2020, Zuckerberg and Chan donated $69.5 million to the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR). The sum, which was more than 50 times larger than the organization’s 2017 revenues, was intended to support efforts to inform voters about absentee ballots for the 2020 election. CIER dispersed much of these funds to other organizations. [10] [11] [12] In September, CEIR gave $12,040,000 to MCELA, despite the group never having reported more than $50,000 in annual revenues to that time. [13]

Spending

In the last few months of 2020, the MCELA spent $11,889,365. MCELA reported two major outside contractors in its financial disclosure, both for “media strategy and purchase”: Waterfront Strategies, which was paid $9,799,407, and Alper Strategies, which was paid $2,088,000. [14] Waterfront Strategies is a subsidiary of GMMB Consulting, the largest Democratic consulting firm in the United States. Alper Strategies is a political consulting firm founded by Democratic strategist Jill Alper, a former campaign director of the Democratic National Committee. [15]

Leadership

Starting in 2020, Jen McKernan was the president of the Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration. [16] McKernan is a director at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, [17] which is a client of Alper Strategies, one of the two Democratic consulting firms MCELA hired in 2020. [18] McKernan was formerly an organizer at the American Federation of Teachers Michigan. [19]

In 2019, Sally Marsh was the president of MCELA. Currently and during her tenure as president, Marsh was the director of special projects for Michigan secretary of state Jocelyn Benson (D), the founder of MCELA. Marsh was responsible for recruiting poll workers and leading youth voter outreach for the 2020 election under Benson while Marsh was president of the MCELA. Previously, Marsh was the deputy campaign manager and finance director for Benson’s campaign for secretary of state in 2018. [20] [21]

From the MCELA’s founding until 2018, Benson worked as the organization’s president. [22]

Ned Staebler works as treasurer of the MCELA. Staebler is the president and CEO of TechTown, an entrepreneur incubator, the vice president for economic development at Wayne State University in Detroit and a commissioner for the City of Detroit’s Sustainability Advisory Committee. He is also a board member of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, Michigan Community Resources, and the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan. [23]

Kimberly Trent serves as secretary of the MCELA. Trent is the deputy director for prosperity of the Michigan Department for Labor and Economic Opportunity. She previously worked as senior vice president at the political consulting firm Compass Strategies, director of the governor’s office for southeastern Michigan, Detroit regional manager for U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and director of communications for former U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-MI). [24]

References

  1. Butler, Chris. “Mark Zuckerberg-Funded CEIR Donated Nearly $12 Million So Michigan Residents Could Vote Absentee.” Michigan Star. April 14, 2021. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://themichiganstar.com/2021/04/14/mark-zuckerberg-funded-ceir-donated-nearly-12-million-so-michigan-residents-could-vote-absentee/. ^
  2. Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration, Form 990-N, 2019. ^
  3. Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration, Form 990-N, 2019. ^
  4. “Jen McKernan.” LinkedIn. Accessed September 2, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jen-mckernan-369392212. ^
  5. Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration, Return of an Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990), 2020 ^
  6. Tom Gantert | October 25, 2021. “Michigan Democratic Activists Took Zuckerberg Money for ‘Nonpartisan’ Get-out-the-Vote Work.” Michigan Capitol Confidential, October 25, 2021. https://www.michigancapitolconfidential.com/michigan-democratic-activists-took-zuckerberg-money-for-nonpartisan-get-out-the-vote-work. ^
  7. “Determination Letter.” U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Accessed August 17, 2021.. ^
  8. “Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration, Return of an Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990), 2020 ^
  9. Butler, Chris. “Mark Zuckerberg-Funded CEIR Donated Nearly $12 Million So Michigan Residents Could Vote Absentee.” Michigan Star. April 14, 2021. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://themichiganstar.com/2021/04/14/mark-zuckerberg-funded-ceir-donated-nearly-12-million-so-michigan-residents-could-vote-absentee/. ^
  10. “Grants.” Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://chanzuckerberg.com/grants-ventures/grants/. ^
  11. “Center for Election Innovation & Research.” ProPublica. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/813815137. ^
  12. Butler, Chris. “Mark Zuckerberg-Funded CEIR Donated Nearly $12 Million So Michigan Residents Could Vote Absentee.” Michigan Star. April 14, 2021. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://themichiganstar.com/2021/04/14/mark-zuckerberg-funded-ceir-donated-nearly-12-million-so-michigan-residents-could-vote-absentee/. ^
  13. Butler, Chris. “Mark Zuckerberg-Funded CEIR Donated Nearly $12 Million So Michigan Residents Could Vote Absentee.” Michigan Star. April 14, 2021. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://themichiganstar.com/2021/04/14/mark-zuckerberg-funded-ceir-donated-nearly-12-million-so-michigan-residents-could-vote-absentee/. ^
  14. Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration, Return of an Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990), 2020 ^
  15. Miele, Frank Daniel. “Zuckerberg-Funded Nonprofit Paid $11.8 Million to Democrat Political Consulting Firms for ‘Nonpartisan Voter Education’ in Michigan 2020 Election.” Star News Network. August 5, 2021. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://thestarnewsnetwork.com/2021/08/05/zuckerberg-funded-nonprofit-paid-11-8-million-to-democrat-political-consulting-firms-for-nonpartisan-voter-education-in-michigan-2020-election/. ^
  16. Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration, Form 990-N, 2019. ^
  17. “Jen McKernan.” Twitter. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://twitter.com/jen_mckernan. ^
  18. “Jill Alpert.” Influence Watch. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.influencewatch.org/person/jill-alper/. ^
  19. “Jen McKernan.” Mobilizing Ideas. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://mobilizingideas.wordpress.com/jen-mckernan/. ^
  20. “Sally Marsh.” LinkedIn. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/sally-marsh/. ^
  21. Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration, Form 990-N, 2019. ^
  22. Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration, Form 990-N, 2019. ^
  23. “Ned Staebler.” LinkedIn. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/nedstaebler/. ^
  24. “Kim Trent.” LinkedIn. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/kim-trent-53a23911/. ^
  25. Certificate of Change of Registered Office and/or Registered Agent. Open Corporates. April 24, 2020. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://opencorporates.com/filings/594484737. ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Jill Alper
    Consultant
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: April 1, 2010

  • Available Filings

    Additional Filings (PDFs)