Dark money organizations linked to Donald Trump’s inner circle and backed by people who have distributed false information about the 2020 presidential election appear to be paying an unprecedented recount of 2.1 million ballots in Arizona.
The investigation was allowed by Republicans in the Arizona state senate, who committed $150,000 in state dollars to pay for it — a fraction of the estimated overall cost, which is yet unclear. In April it was revealed that the state senate had enough money in its operating budget to pay for the probe but opted not to do so.
The endeavor is reportedly funded by individual donors who remain anonymous to the public. The Arizona Republicans and Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based firm in charge of the study, have refused to identify who is paying for the remaining funds.
“It is wholly inappropriate that the Arizona state senate is hiding the mechanisms by which their sanctioned activity is being funded,” Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who served as the top election official in Maricopa County told The Guardian. “The lack of transparency there is just grotesque.”
The Arizona Senate has been questioned about why it hired Cyber Ninjas, a business with no experience monitoring elections, to supervise their huge review. The company’s CEO, Doug Logan, expressed sympathy for the notion that Trump’s victory was rigged.
According to emails obtained by American Oversight, a left-leaning watchdog group, Karen Fann, the president of the Arizona state senate, received a phone call from Trump last year thanking her for “pushing to show any fraud.” Fann, a Republican, also said she chatted with Trump ally Rudy Giuliani several times last year.
At least $150,000 of the investigation’s funding is said to have come from Voices and Votes, a 501(c)(4) headed by Christina Bobb, a news anchor for the One America News Network (OANN), a right-wing media outlet that has promoted electoral conspiracy theories. The group is also led by White House correspondent Chanel Rion and Rion’s fiancé, Courtland Sykes. According to the Washington Post, Bobb discussed the review with Trump and emailed Fann affidavits on Giuliani’s behalf last year, according to emails.
Despite the fact that the dark money group is controlled by many OANN workers and promoted on the network, Bobb routinely promotes the effort on her shows, where she covers the Arizona review, and on social media, she claims that OANN is not “in any way” associated with her fundraising. Attorney Greg Roeberg, an Arizona attorney, formed Voices and Votes in Wyoming in March, just before the inquiry was launched. Last year, the Trump campaign described Greg Roeberg as a “key member” of Jewish Voices for Trump in a press release. In an email, Roeberg stated that he was not involved with the organization other than assisting it with the first legal paperwork. An interview request was turned down by the organization.
L Lin Wood, the pro-Trump lawyer who filed a spate of lawsuits last year attempting to overturn election results says that he had paid $50,000 to Voices and Votes for the review. However, because the groups are subject to little financial transparency rules, it is unclear where the money is actually going.
Wood, who has promoted the review’s funding efforts on Telegram, also told TPM that Cyber Ninja leader Logan worked out of Wood’s home to examine voter fraud allegations in the 2020 election.
Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com and a staunch Trump supporter, is also in charge of a fund-raising campaign. Byrne was present at the “craziest meeting of the Trump presidency.” A December 2020 meeting in the Oval Office that included Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell, who falsely claimed voting machines had flipped votes for Trump and suggested he seize voting machines with government resources. Byrne is also said to have screamed at White House counsel’s office staff, accusing them of not doing enough to help reverse the election.
Byrne’s nonprofit, the America Project, began a Fund the Audit campaign in April with a goal of raising $2.8 million. Byrne claims to have contributed $1 million to the cause, but at least another $900,000 came from unidentified sources. According to the Arizona Republic, Byrne’s non-profit is also assisting in the vetting of personnel who engage in the review.
Byrne was also the head of Defending the Republic, another dark money organization under investigation, but he claimed to have quit in April. Prior to the investigation, Powell’s Defending the Republic website disclosed every Arizona legislator’s contact information and pushed a fraudulent “Election Fraud Facts & Details” document created for the Arizona Senate by Cyber Ninja’s Logan. The dossier includes assertions that voting system software switched votes from Trump to Biden, which have been debunked.
According to county documents obtained by the Guardian, Powell’s group previously hired Wake Technology Services, Inc. (Wake TSI) as a subcontractor to audit election equipment in Fulton County, Pennsylvania, at the request of Doug Mastriano, a state senator who aggressively suggested the election was stolen.
Last year, Paula Shives, a Democrat on the three-member county commission, was taken aback by the company’s permission to review election materials. “Who gave this permission? When was this supposed to happen? Who was informed and who was present throughout the procedure?” Shives wrote to the country’s election director and two commissioners in a text message obtained through a public records request by the Guardian.
Andy Bunch, a Republican County commissioner, responded that the investigation revealed no issues: On a good note, they didn’t find one thing wrong and praise our team meaning Patty and our staff on how organized everything was and we come [sic] out with no flaws it all matched up.”
Wake TSI submitted a draft report to county officials in February that appeared to back up that assessment.
However, according to a copy of the Pennsylvania evaluation posted on the county website, Dominion Voting Systems did not meet the state’s certification criteria, had “errors” in scanning ballots, and had “non-certified” software installed in the county’s voting system.
Wake TSI abruptly dropped out of the Arizona review in May for unknown reasons. In early June, Mastriano was one of several Pennsylvania legislators who visited the audit site, where he was interviewed by Bobb on OANN.
After charity stepped in to fund under-resourced election officials during the epidemic, Republicans, particularly those in Arizona, have moved to restrict the use of private grants for electoral operations. Republicans have targeted funds from nonprofits supported by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, who have donated hundreds of millions of dollars.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, approved a measure in April forbidding election officials from accepting private funds to help conduct elections, citing concerns that this would erode voter faith. This year, similar legislation was passed in Florida and Georgia.
And it’s possible that the secret money gathered for the review will be used for more than just paying the businesses that are conducting it.