Big money from corporate America could mean wins for "Big Lie" candidates

Wealthy donors are funding pro-Trump state-level candidates in battlegrounds like Michigan, Nevada and Arizona

Published October 22, 2022 8:00AM (EDT)

Mark Finchem, Republican nominee for Arizona secretary of state, speaks at a campaign rally attended by former President Donald Trump at Legacy Sports USA on October 09, 2022 in Mesa, Arizona.  (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Mark Finchem, Republican nominee for Arizona secretary of state, speaks at a campaign rally attended by former President Donald Trump at Legacy Sports USA on October 09, 2022 in Mesa, Arizona. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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With just over two weeks until Election Day, warnings about the significance of state-level races are stacking up, especially given a pending Supreme Court case and corporate leaders pouring cash into campaigns backed by Donald Trump.

Despite facing various legal challenges, Trump is widely expected to seek election once again in 2024 — and having allies serving as secretaries of state and state legislators could help him do successfully next time what he only attempted in 2020, particularly if the nation's highest court embraces a fringe legal theory empowering legislatures to overturn election results.

Amid fears of how the right-wing court — featuring three Trump-appointed justices — will rule in the case Moore v. Harper, the group Indivisible has launched a "Crush the Coup" initiative to "stop MAGA state legislatures from stealing the 2024 election."

As part of that effort, Indivisible has identified "the 29 most critical races" for legislative seats in six states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Secretary of state contests in three presidential battleground states — Arizona, Michigan and Nevada — have also garnered national attention due to their potential importance for 2024.

In Nevada, Democrat Cisco Aguilar is facing Trump-endorsed Republican Jim Marchant, organizer of the America First Secretary of State Coalition, which advocates for voter identification policies, paper ballots, ending mail-in voting, "unfettered" access for poll watchers and "aggressive" purges of voter rolls.

As the New York Times noted Friday, during a recent rally where he was joined by Trump, Marchant again backed the ex-president's "Big Lie" that the 2020 election was "rigged."

"I've been working since Nov. 4, 2020 to expose what happened, and what I found out is horrifying. And when I'm secretary of state of Nevada, we're gonna fix it," Marchant said. "And when my coalition of secretary of state candidates around the country get elected, we're gonna fix the whole country and President Trump is going to be president again in 2024."

According to the Times:

In Nevada, the secretary of state could decide to invalidate all election machines, a plan Mr. Marchant has spoken favorably about, forcing a hand-counted vote that would be riddled with errors and would most likely take days to tabulate.

The secretary also is required to be present for the canvassing of the votes by the justices of the state Supreme Court. And in Nevada, as in many states, the office is in charge of audits, as well as assisting in investigations into potential claims of voter fraud.

Aside from these powers, secretaries of state have also served as an influential counter to false claims of fraud, misinformation and disinformation about American elections.

"One of my biggest concerns with someone like Jim Marchant in that role is that they can use that platform to do exactly the opposite, and exacerbate or spread disinformation," Ben Berwick, a counsel at the nonpartisan group Protect Democracy, told the newspaper.

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"The idea of putting these people in charge of our elections is nuts," he added. "Many of these candidates have said that they would not have certified the 2020 election, and there is good reason to believe they will use their power to try to manipulate the results if their preferred candidate doesn't win in 2024."

The Republicans running for secretary of state in Arizona and Michigan, Mark Finchem and Kristina Karamo — who are facing Democrats Adrian Fontes and Jocelyn Benson, respectively — are both members of Marchant's coalition and endorsed by Trump.

Those three Republicans — along with Wyoming's GOP candidate for the role, Chuck Gray — were the focus of a recent CNBC report about corporate leaders and businesses pouring money into the campaigns of candidates who support Trump's Big Lie.

As CNBC detailed:

The wealthiest donors to Marchant, Finchem, Karamo, and Gray include Richard Uihlein, a shipping magnate and conservative megadonor; Patrick Byrne, the former Overstock CEO and current election denier; Jim Henry, the founder of oil and gas drilling company Henry Resources; Kyle Stallings, the CEO of oil and gas investment company Desert Royalty; Lewis Topper, a fast food executive who runs Integrated Food Systems Inc.; Matthew McKean, the CEO of energy company Frontier Applied Sciences; Ben Friedman, the CEO of restaurant food producer Riviera Produce, and Susan Gore, an heiress to the Gore-Tex fortune.

All eight have combined to give over $30,000, with donations since the start of last year split among Marchant, Karamo, Gray and Finchem, records show.

Citing Michael Beckel, a research director at Issue One, CNBC reported that all 12 secretary of state candidates who have challenged the 2020 results have raised at least $5.8 million during the current election cycle.

In addition to the previously mentioned candidates, Big Lie backers are running for secretary of state in Alabama, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, South Dakota and Vermont.

Sarah Bryner, director of research and strategy for OpenSecrets, which tracks money in politics, told Marketplace this week that secretary of state candidates could set a new record for the amount of money raised this cycle.

"In the states that really are likely to make the difference, election deniers are raising a lot of money," Bryner said, referring to states like Arizona, where OpenSecrets estimates the candidates for the role could raise $6 million.

By Jessica Corbett

Jessica Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow her on Twitter: @corbett_jessica.

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Aggregate Big Lie Common Dreams Corporations Dark Money Elections Jim Marchant Kristina Karamo Mark Finchem