Arizona GOP raised record funds with misleading arguments about election audit

The Arizona Republican Party has raised record sums in 2021 with repeated pleas to supporters for money to help audit the 2020 presidential election. “Participate to help us complete the US audit!” and “Help America’s Audit” were among dozens of party presentations.

But Kelli Ward, the state party chair, was sending a very different message to leading Republicans in Washington at the time.

“We have not raised funds to pay for the audit,” Ward wrote in a June 25, 2021 text message, according to a person with knowledge of the message, who spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal inside details. “We were specifically told that we could/should not fundraise for the audit and auditors before the audit started.”

Instead, Ward wrote in the text, the party would “keep up the pressure” for an audit and “communicate” about an audit.

The text message suggests that Arizona GOP leaders had no intention of using donations to help pay for the audit effort, despite what he told his supporters during calls from funds. Ultimately, the $6 million audit was funded by a separate fundraising effort by election denier groups, along with $150,000 in upfront taxpayer money.

The final report, which was prepared by private contractors and submitted to Republican leaders in the state Senate, reaffirmed President Biden’s victory in the battleground state over former President Donald Trump.

Arizona GOP spokeswoman Kristy Dohnel did not respond to questions about the text message, but said in a statement that the state party is “helping to cover security costs to ensure the safety of those who participated in the non-partisan audit”.

“The Arizona Republican Party has been able to raise millions of dollars under the leadership of President Kelli Ward with incredible partners and tireless grassroots donors,” Dohnel said. “They know Dr. Ward is honest, operates with integrity, and for that reason they trust his team with their resources. The role of the State Party is to maintain political pressure on different entities.

Republican officials in Arizona have found fundraising through the audit to be a resounding success. From May to September 2021, at least 92 emails mentioned the audit as a reason to give to the Arizona GOP. The state party secured nearly $1.1 million during this five-month period in a non-election year, compared to about $865,000 for 2020 and 2022 combined.

“In order to be on track to complete this historic, thorough, and nonpartisan effort to strengthen our republic, we will need to raise $40,000 before the end of the month!” read a June 24, 2021, email. “We know these goals seem ambitious, but we are fighting for our right to have strong and secure elections. Are you going to rush in your support with whatever is at stake? »

The trend was evident across the country. In total, the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol found that more than $250 million was raised through fraudulent claims that the election was stolen. Trump’s campaign continued to fundraise for an “election defense fund” that did not exist. Trump’s PAC has raised more than $100 million, largely through allegations of election theft, and he’s largely hoarded the money while spending some of it on candidates and some on his own lawyers.

Throughout his tenure, Ward steered the party in the right direction and deepened his ties to Trump while promoting himself. People close to Trump say he considers her an ally, although they are not particularly close. She was one of the figures who sued Vice President Mike Pence in late 2020, in a bid to stop him from certifying the election results.

She was filed by the Jan. 6 committee but did not answer questions, citing her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. She also received a subpoena in connection with a Justice Department investigation into organized bogus voters in Arizona and some other states; she and her husband were on a fake voter list for Trump in Arizona.

During the audit process, Ward starred in video updates seen by thousands of people which were posted on Twitter. She gave updates on the status of the review and occasionally referred viewers to her website.

In one video, text appeared on screen asking viewers to “donate now” and directing viewers to the online platform, WinRed. “Support the Maricopa County Forensic Audit,” the website said.

“The Arizona Republican Party, together with the Arizona Senate, has accomplished something no other state has achieved,” the page reads. “That’s why we need your help. We have made it clear, leading the charge since Election Day, that when it comes to election integrity, we will not be intimidated. Join us to support our work. We are not done fighting. And we won’t be until we get the answers we deserve.

The page also said the contributions would benefit the state party.

Another State Party article touting the scrutiny of the ballot directed supporters to a WinRed site and to “DONATE NOW TO SUPPORT THE ELECTION INTEGRITY FUND. »

Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

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