Arizona election audit funded by Trump allies' dark money groups: reports

"The lack of transparency there is just grotesque," one critic said

By Jon Skolnik
Published June 9, 2021 6:46PM (EDT)
Donald Trump | Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 8, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump | Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 8, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The embattled Arizona election recount, which has grown into a bizarre spectacle over the last few months, is reportedly being bankrolled by a coterie of high-money donors in Donald Trump's inner circle through dark money groups that have a history of spreading baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election. 

According to a review by The Guardian and OpenSecrets, the Arizona state Senate has paid for just a fraction of the recount's operating expenses — $150,000 — while the rest of the cost is being covered largely by anonymous donors. In fact, the state Senate apparently had enough funds to pay for the audit itself, but ultimately chose not to, according to another report from the Arizona Mirror. 

One prominent financial backer is Voices and Votes, a 501(c)(4) organization led by Christina Bobb, an anchor for One America News Network (OANN), who at one point worked with former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Back in April, Bobb tweeted that Voices for Votes had set out to pump $150,000 into the recount effort in Arizona. Bobb told Buzzfeed that the dark money group is in no way connected to the news network, though the network and Bobb herself have repeatedly bandied false claims of election fraud. 

The audit is also being funded by Patrick Byrne, the the former chief executive of Overstock.com, who spoke at a pro-Trump rally in D.C. on Jan. 6, just before a throng of violent protesters raided the Capitol. Back in April, Byrne, who has reportedly chewed out U.S. representatives for not throwing more support behind the effort to overturn the election, established a non-profit called the America Project designed to funnel $1 million into the Arizona recount, according to the Mirror. Byrne also served as the head of another dark money group, called Defending the Republic, that alleged without evidence that the vote-counting machines in Maricopa County suffered from a wide-scale glitch that allotted a false number of votes to President Biden. 

Also in the mix is former Trump attorney L. Lin Wood, who has supported Trump's effort to overturn the election in myriad ways, with a spate of lawsuits alleging systemic fraud. Wood's non-profit reportedly donated $50,000 to Voices and Votes, though it remains unclear precisely how that money was spent. 

Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, who attended the Jan. 6 protest at the Capitol that later turned into a riot, has also poured money into the audit by way of his personal 501(c)(4) called Guardian Defense Fund, which is funding additional security services at the site of the audit, according to an interview with former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.

Many have pointed out the irony of the audit's dark money backers, since Republicans have vociferously fought against the use of private funds in election financing. Back in April, the Arizona state GOP prohibited election officials from taking in private grant money to pay for election organization – money that was otherwise a lifeline during the pandemic. 

"Ironically, after outlawing transparent philanthropic funding of election administration, used to assist all voters, regardless of party, during a global pandemic, the Arizona Senate now relies upon secret funding for their 'audit,'" David Becker, the executive director for the Center for Election Innovation and Research, told The Guardian. 

Adrian Fontes, a Democratic official in Maricopa County, echoed to the paper: "It is wholly inappropriate that the Arizona state senate is hiding the mechanisms by which their sanctioned activity is being funded. The lack of transparency there is just grotesque."

According to the Guardian, individuals in Trump's network have been using Telegram – an encrypted instant messaging service which saw an influx of users following the removal of Parler from various online marketplaces – to coordinate their support of the recount. 


Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, AlterNet, and The New York Daily News.

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