Groups run by by pro-Trump celebrities who’ve campaigned for months on the lie that Donald Trump’s second term was stolen for him have collectively given millions of dollars to the sham “audit” of Maricopa County, Arizona’s 2020 election results, constituting the vast majority of the audit’s funding.
In all, outside groups contributed $5.7 million to the audit, lead audit contractor Cyber Ninjas said in a statement.
By contrast, Arizona Senate Republicans — who authorized the audit and issued the subpoenas to Maricopa County that compelled the county to hand over its election materials to a bunch of inexperienced, conspiracy-theory-promoting tech professionals — provided just $150,000 for the audit.
As politicized “audits” proliferate around the country — including in Pennsylvania, where lawmakers pushing the review have considered using private funds — the new details provide a small window into the Arizona operation’s deep ties to the #StopTheSteal fringe, including Patrick Byrne, Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell and One America News Network. Cyber Ninjas in a statement referred to the fringe organizations as the audit’s “sponsors.”
“As we continue our commitment to transparency, we want to take this opportunity to publicly thank and disclose those organizations that have supported us during this audit,” Cyber Ninjas said in the statement, which accompanied the meager funding details. (The Arizona Republic’s Jenn Fifield noted an error in the release: the individual contributions listed add up to $5,661,514.43, or $50,000 short of the stated sum. The extra $50,000 in the statement turned out to be the first $50,000 payment from the Senate.)
The information comes nowhere close to the sort of information political campaigns would have to disclose about their donors, such as individual names and addresses. A state judge has said fundraising records are subject to public records law.
Still, the list is revealing: The largest donor, The America Project, was founded by ex-Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne and raised money through the website fundtheaudit.com, which was promoted by the audit’s official Twitter account. Byrne has claimed in interviews that he personally donated $500,000 to the Arizona effort, though without more detailed records, there’s no way to confirm his or others’ claims.
Byrne — along with Sidney Powell and Michael Flynn, two other key players in the audit’s fundraising — was present during an insane December White House meeting in which, among other things, the participants reportedly discussed seizing voting machines.
Since then, Byrne and The America Project have been intimately involved in the audit: At one point, fundtheaudit.com was used to screen potential ballot-counters, requiring them to submit a background check application and a non-disclosure agreement. Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan appeared in a conspiracy theory film starring Byrne that aired while the audit took place, and which filmed ballots from the counting room floor despite strict rules that barred other media outlets from observing the process closely.
The second-largest funder, according to Cyber Ninjas, was Flynn’s group America’s Future, which donated nearly $1 million. Among other things, Flynn in December said that false election fraud claims necessitated martial law and a national revote. He’s since spent his time touring around the country preaching the election theft gospel and, at one point, saying that a Myanmar-style coup “should happen here” — comments he later backed away from.
Voices and Votes, next on the list, is the fundraising group run by reporters from the far-right network One America News. Christina Bobb, who leads that effort, has advertised the group on-air while reporting on the Arizona audit, and Voices and Votes funds have even been used to shuttle in lawmakers from other states to visit the audit. One lawmaker who received a paid trip to the audit site, Wisconsin Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R), who chair’s the state assembly’s elections committee, recently announced her own probe into the 2020 election.
At least one prominent fundraiser has announced their support for Voices and Votes: Lin Wood, the pro-Trump attorney and QAnon proponent who was active in the post-election effort to overturn the election, told TPM in April that his group Fight Back had donated $50,000 to Voices and Votes, and also that Logan, the Cyber Ninjas CEO, had worked on “the investigation into election fraud” at Wood’s property in late 2020.
Perhaps the most well-known celebrity in the effort to overturn the last election, Sidney Powell, now faces potential sanctions and a 10-figure lawsuit for her efforts. But the fundraising group she advertised for her own election litigation, Defending the Republic, also apparently donated $550,000 to the Arizona audit. The group also appears to have been involved in efforts by Doug Mastriano, a Trumpy Pennsylvania state senator, to conduct audits in his state.
The last group on Cyber Ninjas’ sponsor list also has audit history, The Legal Defense Fund for the American Republic, was set up by the same man that set up Powell’s fund, the Daily Beast reported recently.
It goes back to Matthew DePerno, a Michigan-based attorney who unsuccessfully sought to force a lawsuit over the minor human error that occurred during vote-counting in Antrim County — an episode that became a key element of the fake election fraud information ecosystem. Cyber Ninjas was one of the groups providing analysis on DePerno’s side.
A state judge dismissed DePerno’s suit for good in May, and the attorney is — surprise! — running to be Michigan’s next attorney general.
DePerno — who appeared in the same conspiracy theory documentary as Logan, “Deep Rig” — announced his Arizona audit fundraising efforts on Steve Bannon’s show earlier this month. DePerno’s claims about his fundraising apparently stirred up a beef with Byrne, who called him “full of shit.”