Who are the groups who paid to ‘audit’ the Arizona election?
Photo by Courtney Pedroza | Getty Images/pool photo
The five pro-Trump organizations that were revealed last week to have paid a combined almost $5.7 million to fund the Arizona Senate’s self-styled election audit are hardly household names, though several have been at the forefront of former President Donald Trump’s false narrative that election fraud marred the 2020 election.
And several of those groups are run by prominent Trump supporters who are well known, and who have gained larger profiles in the past 7 months by spreading baseless claims about the election. They all paid for the “audit,” sending money to the company with no election or auditing experience that is led by a conspiracy theorist who believes the election was rigged and whose work was used as evidence by senators to overturn the election.
Here is who those groups are, who they’re connected to and what you need to know about each one.
The America Project
The America Project has paid the most to Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based cybersecurity company tasked with leading the “audit,” and has even been promoted by the audit itself. The 501(c)(4) nonprofit is run by former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne and it has contributed $3.2 million — more than half of what private actors paid.
The America Project is behind the “Fund the Audit” effort. It was among the entities tied to the election review that were permanently suspended from Twitter late last month, along with the official Arizona Audit Twitter account and a semi-official account dubbed the “Audit War Room,” which was combative towards media and critics of the audit effort.
Byrne’s Telegram channel is full of conspiracy theories about the election, and he often shares information from other prominent pro-Trump figures that includes baseless allegations about election fraud. Some of those people, like Jovan Pulitzer, are also a part of Arizona’s audit.
Byrne has been a leading voice in 2020 election fraud claims and has railed against the so-called deep state. Some of his claims came after it was revealed he had an affair with accused Russian spy Maria Butina, which he claimed the FBI encouraged him to do.
Byrne was also an attendee of an hour-long meeting at the White House during the final days of Trump’s presidency in which he, Sidney Powell and disgraced retired Gen. Michael Flynn urged the president to overturn the election.
Ken Bennett, the Senate’s official liaison to the election review, and others who controlled the official Twitter account for the Senate’s audit promoted the Fund The Audit effort.
According to reporting by the Washington Post, Bennett was told to promote the fund by Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan.
Logan’s now-deleted Twitter account promoted debunked claims that Trump actually won the 2020 election and lost because of widespread fraud that favored Joe Biden. There is no evidence that happened, and such claims have been refuted by recounts and post-election tests and audits, and courts have consistently rejected them.
Byrne also is behind a conspiracy theory film in which Logan appeared that is based on a book Byrne wrote. That film, “The Deep Rig,” included shots of the audit floor and interviews with members of the audit team including Logan himself. Profits from the film went to The America Project.
The America Project is based out of Sarasota, Florida.
The group that raised the second largest sum of money is named America’s Future. While it might not be well-known, the 501(c)(3)’s leader is: Gen. Michael Flynn.
Flynn, who is also heavily involved in The America Project, has been a vocal proponent of QAnon and was seen in the “Deep Rig” movie wearing a bracelet with a QAnon slogan.
The organization paid Cyber Ninjas more than $976,000. On its website, it says it aims to fight “communism” and preserve “Judeo-Christian values” for future generations. The organization lists The America Project as one of its partners, along with the far-right anti-LGBT Phyllis Schlafly Eagles.
ProPublica’s nonprofit explorer shows that the organization appears to have been associated with the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles and was run by Missouri politician and former Phyllis Schlafly Eagles President Ed Martin.
Tracy Diaz, editor-in-chief of UncoverDC.com, a website that pushes election fraud and false information about COVID-19 along with other conspiracy theories, is also listed on the board of directors. Flynn has long profited from QAnon and other conspiracy theories using people like Diaz and others.
Diaz, known online by the moniker Tracy Beanz, told her followers in a now deleted Telegram post that she sat on the board of America’s Future.
“In full disclosure – I sit on the board of America’s future,” Diaz said. “I am only sharing that because I feel that since we are on the list you should know.”
Joseph J. Flynn, brother of Michael Flynn, also is on the board of directors. He appeared in the “Deep Rig” film alongside his brother, Byrne and members of the Arizona audit team.
Voices and Votes
The first organization to announce it was raising funds for Arizona’s audit was the one created by the host of a Pro-Trump cable news network that has repeatedly spread false claims about the election in Arizona and across the country.
One America News Network’s Christina Bobb runs a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization called Voices & Votes, which has paid $605,000 for the audit. Bobb routinely tweets about the fundraising effort and frequently mentions her nonprofit during her broadcasts, urging supporters to donate.
Bobb was also given exclusive access to Bennett and the audit site.
The organization has also been raising money for other “audit” efforts in other states, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Bobb has been involved with Arizona’s election efforts since before the election audit, as well.
Documents obtained via public records by the Center for Public Integrity and American Oversight showed that Bobb was in direct communication with Senate President Karen Fann and Trump attorney and former New York Mayor Rudy Guliani.
“Mayor Guiliani asked me to send you these declarations,” Bobb said in an email to Fann in December.
In one email, Fann directly asked Bobb to pass along a list of “deceased or illegal aliens who voted.” The audit has not produced evidence of either claim, though Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office earlier this year charged a Scottsdale woman — a Republican — with illegally casting her dead mother’s early ballot.
Defending the Republic
Defending the Republic, a 501(c)(4) run by disgraced lawyer Sidney Powell, has paid $550,000 to Cyber Ninjas for the “audit” work.
The group came under fire in Florida recently, with the state alleging it was illegally raising money without being registered.
Dominion Voting Systems, a company that makes election equipment that is at the forefront of many conspiracy theories around the election, is suing Powell and others for claiming the company rigged the election in favor of President Joe Biden.
In a recent court filing, Dominion claimed that Powell has been using Defending the Republic to fund her own lifestyle. The organization’s former chairman and CEO before Powell was Byrne, the man who runs The America Project.
Defending the Republic also has connections to QAnon, with proceeds from a QAnon convention earlier this year going to the organization. (At the same convention, Flynn said a military coup should happen in the United States.)
Legal Defense Fund for the American Republic and Election Integrity Funds for the American Republic
Defending the Republic is not the only group tied to Powell that raised money for the “audit” effort.
The Legal Defense Fund for the American Republic, or LDFFTAR, was created by the Election Integrity Funds for the American Republic, or EIFFTAR. Its website claims that it is raising money for a variety of purposes, including the Arizona election review, litigation in Georgia and Pennsylvania, an investigation in Michigan and a “Cyber Election Fraud” investigation fund.
The two groups paid Cyber Ninjas a combined $280,000.
The P.O. box listed as LDFFTAR’s address is the same as one used for a legal fund created to pay for Powell’s election fraud lawsuits. That legal fund was created by long-time Republican party donor Robert Matheson.
A previous version of LDFFTAR’s website said that it was “not directly connected to Sidney Powell’s legal defense fund,” according to reporting by The Daily Beast. However, the site still uses the name the Legal Defense Fund for the American Republic, which was the original name for the group that was helping fund Powell’s “kraken” lawsuits.
Those lawsuits sought to overturn the elections in several battleground states that Trump lost, including Arizona. All were rejected by the courts, on several occasions with blistering orders from the judges dismissing the claims. In Michigan, Powell and other attorneys involved in the lawsuits face potential sanctions from the federal court for filing a lawsuit there.
Last month, LDFFTAR claimed — and later deleted — that CyFir, one of the subcontractors working under Cyber Ninjas, had allegedly “discovered security breaches” of voting systems in multiple states. Ben Cotton, the CEO of CyFir, who is attributed to making the discovery, has walked back similar bombastic claims in the past.
The fund is also connected to the Foundation for the American Republic, a nonprofit that funds far-right “influencers” and “investigative journalists” who are focused on “election integrity.” A video on the group’s site showcasing some of the people they support includes right-wing disinformation peddlers such as Kalen D’almeida and Fog City Midge.
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy writes from the Arizona Mirror, an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Mirror retains full editorial independence.
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