Arizona Audit’s Fundraising Docs Are Public Records, Judge Says

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 01: 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 1, 2021 in Phoeni... PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 01: 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 1, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Maricopa County ballot recount comes after two election audits found no evidence of widespread fraud. (Photo by Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images) MORE LESS
July 16, 2021 11:06 a.m.

An Arizona judge on Thursday denied Republican senators’ motion to dismiss a lawsuit seeking records on the financial backers and other aspects of the sham “audit” of the 2020 elections in Maricopa County. 

“It is difficult to conceive of a case with a more compelling public interest demanding public disclosure and public scrutiny,” Judge Michael W. Kemp wrote at the end of a seven-page decision

The ruling, in favor of a lawsuit for records from the left-leaning watchdog group American Oversight, gets the public one step closer to learning behind-the-scenes details of the audit, including who’s funding it. 

The audit was authorized by state Senate President Karen Fann (R) and has been performed by third-party vendors led by Cyber Ninjas, a tech firm with no elections experience prior to the 2020 elections. The firm’s CEO, Doug Logan, posted crazy conspiracy theories about that election before being hired for the audit. 

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The Senate paid its contractors $150,000 for their audit work — but that’s only a fraction of the expense. Private fundraisers — Trump supporters who see the audit as the “first domino” in a long line of investigations that will vindicate Trump’s lies about election fraud — rushed to fill the void. 

Kemp said Thursday that records in those contractors’ possession were subject to Arizona’s public records law where they had a “substantial nexus” with a government agency’s activities. He rejected the argument that Cyber Ninjas and other private vendors working on the audit were exempt from public records laws. Allowing the Senate to circumvent public records law by retaining private companies would be “an absurd result,” he said. 

“The ‘substantial nexus’ standard narrows the scope of the inquiry,” the judge wrote. “Records concerning how the audit was planned and conducted, the identity of third-parties subsidizing the audit, and the source and specifics of the audit procedures are matters of public record subject to disclosure under the [public records law].”

He separately wrote that the the amounts paid by the audit’s funders were also subject to public records law: “[A]ll records disclosing specifically who is paying for and financing this legislative activity as well as precisely how much is being paid are subject to the PRL.”

Despite auditors’ claims that the review has been “transparent,” the audit’s funding has been a months-long mystery, though some funders have publicly announced their support. 

Christina Bobb, the One America News anchor reporting on the audit for the far-right network, has advertised her fundraising group for the audit, Voices and Votes, on air. Lin Wood, the QAnon-promoting pro-Trump lawyer who faces potential legal penalties for his own post-election actions, told TPM his organization Fight Back donated $50,000 to Bobb’s group. Wood also said Logan had been present at his South Carolina property last year investigating the election. 

Perhaps the largest source of fundraising has been CEO Patrick Byrne’s group The America Project, which fundraised through a website called Fund The Audit. Logan recently appeared in a documentary starring Byrne, which was given access to the audit’s counting floor and ballot boxes.

The filing Thursday is separate from another suit pursuing audit records, from The Arizona Republic. The House Oversight Committee also recently wrote to Logan requesting documents.

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