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New Report Says Trump-Linked Groups Are Secretly Funding Arizona Ballot “Audit”

An organization run by staff at the far right One America News Network donated at least $150,000 to the effort.

Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, which was hired by the Arizona State Senate, review ballots from the 2020 general election on May 3, 2021, in Phoenix, Arizona.

A new report by The Guardian and OpenSecrets has found that dark money groups with ties to former President Donald Trump are key funders of the politically motivated and highly questionable ballot audit being conducted in Arizona.

The Republican-controlled Senate in the state has provided $150,000 of government funds for the audit, which is likely to cost much more. This is where the right-wing dark money donors come in.

At least $150,000 of the funding for the spurious audit comes from a 501(c)(4) — a designation given to social welfare organizations — called Voices and Votes that’s run by One America News Network (OANN) anchor Christina Bobb and OANN correspondent Chanel Rion. OANN is an extremist right-wing organization that has peddled conspiracy theories related to Trump’s big lie about the election, among other dangerous conspiracies.

L. Lin Wood, an attorney and conspiracy theorist who helped lead Trump’s legal charge against election results last year, says that his organization has donated $50,000 to Voices and Votes. It’s unclear exactly where that money is being used.

Former CEO of Patrick Byrne, now well-known for his off-color and passionate support of Trump, also led an effort promoted by Arizona Senate Republicans to raise $2.8 million for the review effort. Byrne claims that he himself contributed $1 million toward the Fund the Audit campaign, and another $900,000 have come from unknown sources.

Byrne has also led two nonprofits connected with the review, one of which is helping to select staff and another that has launched an effort to encourage supporters to contact their representatives and get them to oppose election fraud and support election integrity — phrases commonly used by Republicans to falsely call into question the results of the 2020 election or in relation to any election they potentially stand to lose.

Republican State Rep. Mark Finchem’s 501(c)(4) is also contributing to the review, the Guardian and OpenSecrets found. The Guardian Defense Fund, Finchem’s organization, is evidently helping to pay for security at the review site, Finchem has claimed on a podcast episode with Steve Bannon. More concerningly, Finchem is running for Arizona secretary of state, likely in efforts to be able to influence election results in the future.

People involved with the dark money groups have also been using Telegram, an encrypted messaging app, to communicate and coordinate logistics of the review with each other. In one channel, organizers lobbied for the review to incorporate use of technology made by Jovan Pulitzer, a “kind of folk hero” among big lie conspiracy theorists.

While Pulitzer’s current fame comes from his peddling of conspiracy theories about the election, he was previously well-known for his invention of the CueCat barcode scanner, a device so useless that it’s known in tech communities as one of the worst gadgets ever created.

Yet, Pulitzer’s technology ended up being incorporated into the “audit” process, perhaps because of the Telegram effort. Review officials are evidently using his technology to scan for watermarks on the ballots, which will likely not detect anything because Arizona does not use watermarks on its ballots. The technology is evidently also being used to look for bamboo particles in the ballots because of a racist conspiracy theory that fake ballots were sent from China, which the bamboo dust would evidently prove.

The review is being run by Cyber Ninjas, whose founder pushes QAnon and “Stop the Steal” conspiracy theories. But it’s being run so poorly that Republican lawmakers have been attempting to distance themselves from it, despite the fact that it was the GOP that originally wanted the audit to be conducted.

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