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This Coalition Boosts Trump-Aligned Election Deniers Vying to Oversee Elections

America First Secretary of State Coalition has secured GOP nominations for offices overseeing elections in six states.

Mark Finchem, Republican nominee for Arizona secretary of state, speaks at a campaign rally attended by former President Donald Trump at Legacy Sports USA on October 9, 2022, in Mesa, Arizona.

The America First Secretary of State Coalition, a coalition of Republican candidates touting disproven claims that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, raised more than $300,000 through a Nevada-based PAC called Conservatives for Election Integrity in an effort to exert control over election administration in battleground states, an OpenSecrets analysis of Nevada campaign finance records found.

The coalition aims to elect candidates who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election and will be positioned to influence the outcome of future elections, including the 2024 presidential race, according to the group’s founder, Jim Marchant, the GOP nominee in Nevada’s secretary of state race.

The proliferation of misinformation about voting fraud and conspiracy theories have thrust secretary of state races into the forefront of American politics this year.

Candidates for secretary of state have reported raising over $51.8 million in the 2022 election cycle as of Oct. 13. The 12 election-denying candidates who received the GOP nomination for secretary of state have raised $6.2 million, an OpenSecrets analysis of campaign finance data shows.

Marchant touted the coalition at a Trump rally in Minden, Nev., on Saturday, telling the crowd, “When my coalition of secretary of state candidates around the country get elected, we’re gonna fix the whole country, and President Trump is gonna be president again in 2024.”

“All we have to do is influence it a little bit, and we win,” Marchant said in a September interview with Steve Bannon, a former adviser to Trump. “And we negate whatever ability they have to manipulate the system.”

Founding secretary of state candidates in the coalition include Republican Kristina Karamo, a community college professor and conspiracy theorist running for secretary of state in Michigan, and Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R), who is running for governor of Pennsylvania and spearheaded the effort in November 2020 to overturn President Joe Biden’s win in the state.

Candidates backed by the America First coalition have secured GOP nominations for secretary of state in Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, New Mexico and Indiana as well as for governor in Pennsylvania, a state where the governor appoints the secretary of state. Trump has endorsed three of the coalition’s candidates — Mastriano, Karamo and Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem (R), who is currently running for secretary of state — praising their advocacy of his false allegations of voter fraud as they vye for the opportunity to oversee elections, alarming some election experts and voting rights advocates.

The America First coalition held its inaugural meeting on May 1, 2021, at the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas.

Participants in that meeting included MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne, Claremont Institute founder Brian Kennedy, and Jim Hoft, who operates the far-right Gateway Pundit website, which promotes conspiracy theories and hoaxes.

The coalition has endorsed more than a dozen candidates for secretary of state, all of whom have refused to accept the legitimacy of Biden’s victory in 2020 and have promised to dramatically restrict voting rights if elected.

Fundraising for the America First coalition

In addition to the individual candidates’ campaigns, the America First coalition has an affiliated state-level PAC for fundraising – Conservatives for Election Integrity.

The PAC reported raising $331,422 during the first six months of 2022, OpenSecrets’ review of campaign finance records found. More than 40% of that total came from one donor the America Project, a far-right group co-founded last year by former Trump advisor and retired Gen. Michael Flynn and Byrne, a prominent election denier.

The America Project helped fund Republican lawmakers’ widely-criticized election review in Maricopa County, Ariz., last year. The group later contributed $100,000 to a super PAC in Colorado that sought to boost Republican secretary of state candidate Tina Peters, an election denier who lost her primary.

Conservatives for Election Integrity received two contributions totaling $100,000 in June from MDB Realty, a Las Vegas real estate firm run by Matthew Brimhall, a former corporate executive at the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas.

The bulk of the PAC’s spending, nearly $170,000, went to McShane LLC, a Las Vegas political consulting firm which attracted national media attention after it was reported that it had recruited members of the Proud Boys hate group to attend a protest and rally outside a Nevada voting center two days after the 2020 presidential election.

Campaign finance records show that Conservatives for Election Integrity also paid $20,000 to Georgetown Advisory, a consulting group founded and operated by Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump advisor who was part of a concerted effort by Trump attorneys and political allies to prevent Biden’s victory from being certified.

Opponents of Marchant have accused him of using Conservatives for Election Integrity to skirt campaign finance laws by accepting contributions that exceeded the limit under Nevada law.

Jesse Haw, a candidate for secretary of state who ran against Marchant in Nevada’s GOP primary, filed a complaint with the Nevada secretary of state’s office in May alleging Marchant used Conservatives for Election Integrity and his individual campaign interchangeably, which Haw claimed violates state laws limiting campaign contributions.

A similar complaint was filed in August by End Citizens United, a Democratic-aligned PAC that advocates for campaign finance reform and recently announced a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign opposing Marchant.

Origins of the America First Secretary of State Coalition

The America First coalition, based in Las Vegas, Nev., was founded by Marchant, a former Nevada state legislator, along with Wayne Willott, a promoter of the QAnon conspiracy theory who uses the pseudonym “Juan O. Savin.”

In remarks at a QAnon-affiliated conference in Las Vegas last year, Marchant explained the origins of the coalition’s formation. Marchant said it dates back to the day after the 2020 election, when he began an unsuccessful effort to overturn his defeat in a Congressional election in Nevada, an outcome he falsely blamed on fraudulent mail-in ballots.

Marchant told conference attendees that in the days after the election, he hunkered down in a suite at the Venetian Las Vegas hotel. Just across the hall were a group of Trump attorneys and other allies of the president, beginning their effort to try to overturn Biden’s narrow win in Nevada.

Juan O. Savin showed up at Marchant’s suite, the candidate said, and the two collaborated for three to five months, “trying to expose the fraudulent election here in Nevada.”

In their strategy sessions in Las Vegas, Trump allies allegedly encouraged Marchant not to run for Congress again in 2022, but instead to run for secretary of state of Nevada. Marchant claims they also asked him to form a coalition of like-minded candidates in other states, echoing Trump’s false claims of election fraud.

The America First coalition was formed in response to the Secretary of State Project, according to Marchant. The project launched as a 527 political nonprofit in 2006, aiming to elect Democratic secretaries of state in battleground states after some Democrats suspected malfeasance by Republican secretaries of state in the administration of the presidential elections in 2000 and 2004.

Election Deniers Push for Election “Reforms”

The 2020 election deniers “have not stopped–they have simply turned their sights on future elections,” Ben Berwick, counsel with Protect Democracy, a nonprofit dedicated to resisting authoritarianism, told OpenSecrets in a written statement.

“We are seeing a concerted attempt to make it possible for partisan actors to manipulate or subvert a future election if they don’t like the results, primarily through misinformation and co-opting the machinery of election administration,” Berwick wrote.

The America First coalition advocates several electoral reforms, including stricter voter ID requirements, replacing electronic voting machines with hand-counted paper ballots, ending early voting, ending mail-in voting and carrying out “aggressive voter roll clean-up.”

David Becker, founder and executive director of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Election Innovation & Research and co-author of the book “The Big Truth: Upholding Democracy in the Age of ‘the Big Lie’” told OpenSecrets that most of these proposed reforms would make elections “less secure, less transparent, and lead to integrity problems.”

Becker said that while he is a strong supporter of using paper ballots that can later be checked in a properly-conducted election audit, the proposal of hand-counting ballots is “an incredibly bad idea that every election official will tell you is a bad idea, regardless of what their political philosophy is.”

“If you want inaccurate results that take a long time and cost way too much taxpayer money, hand-counts are your solution,” Becker told OpenSecrets. “But if you want accurate counts, as quickly as possible, then you need machines to do it.”

Mark Lindeman, policy and strategy director at Verified Voting, a nonprofit that promotes the responsible use of election technology, told OpenSecrets that hand counting ballots is viable on a small scale but “becomes tremendously complicated and error-prone in jurisdictions with many contests, with many candidates, with many different ballot styles.”

Lindeman said that even if hand counts are conducted correctly, the process of combining those counts to get correct totals is one that “necessarily involves computers.”

“The idea that we can avoid computers by doing everything some good old-fashioned way has no basis in reality, and at best is a waste of time that creates additional opportunities for error and even potentially misfeasance,” Lindeman added.

Becker also said that ending early voting and only permitting voting on election day are examples of “using the language of election integrity to dismantle the infrastructure of election integrity.”

“This is about diminishing confidence in the election system,” Becker said.

Restricting voting by mail and early voting would also negatively impact students, elderly voters and people with disabilities, according to Thania Sanchez, senior vice president for research and policy development at States United Democracy Center, a nonpartisan organization advancing free and fair elections.

“These efforts to suppress the vote are a direct result of lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. It’s all part of a larger anti-democracy strategy to create doubt and confusion about the non-partisan administration of elections,” Sanchez wrote in a statement to OpenSecrets.

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