Election Audit Price Tag Remains Unknown, But Fundraisers Seek $2.8 Million

Published: Thursday, April 29, 2021 - 2:47pm
Updated: Thursday, April 29, 2021 - 6:00pm

A private nonprofit says it’s trying to raise $2.8 million to support a controversial review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County.

Leaders of the audit and recount, ordered by the Republican-led state Senate, have used press conferences and Twitter to direct individuals to a website operated by The American Project, a Florida-based nonprofit.

“Our current goal is to raise $2,800,000 to support and pay for expenses of the Maricopa Audit,” the website states.

The America Project vows to use any excess funds raised “for other election integrity activities to included (sic) audits in other areas and related expenses.”

Former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, acting as a liaison for Republican Senate President Karen Fann during the election review, said he doesn’t know if that fundraising goal reflects the full cost of the audit. Bennett also can’t account for other fundraising efforts, including those by a media personality at the far-right One American News Network.

“I’m going to try to make sure” the nonprofit’s donors are disclosed, Bennett told KJZZ. “But I don’t know how much money is in the budget. I don’t know how much has been raised. I don’t know how much of that has come from OANN or anybody else individually.”

Shortly after Fann signed a contract with Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based cybersecurity firm leading the review, it became clear that the $150,000 she agreed to pay wouldn’t cover the expenses of a weeks-long audit of Maricopa County’s voting systems and equipment, as well as a hand recount of two federal races on nearly 2.1 million ballots cast last November.

Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, has acknowledged his company has accepted private donations to help cover the firm’s expenses. Logan, who’s been criticized for sharing conspiracies of election fraud on social media, told reporters last week he has no idea who’s made those donations or how much has been donated, and made no promises to disclose that information.

Bennett on Tuesday vowed at least an attempt at transparency.

“I’m fighting to make sure that the full amount is transparent to the public, and actually runs through the Senate,” he said during a press conference.

However, Bennett went on to hype The America Project’s fundraising website, where donors’ information will most likely be kept a secret. 

As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, The America Project isn’t required by law to disclose its donors to the IRS.

Critics of the election review note Republican lawmakers just approved a new law that prohibits private grants from helping to cover the costs of running the future election. In fact, the fundraising website includes a link to an article about the law.

Unlike funding for the Senate-ordered election review, the source of those grants was disclosed and well known — hundreds of millions of dollars were donated by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. While many Republicans warned those private funds may have given some voters the appearance of influence or interference in the election, a few state lawmakers claimed the grants were used to tip the scales in favor of Democratic candidates on the ballot in Arizona.

Bennett said last week he believes Fann and Logan both knew they’d need more than the $150,000 the Senate agreed to pay for the audit and recount. Despite the recent law adopted by Republican state senators and representatives, Bennett said the same rules that applied to the 2020 election  rules that some Republicans say let private funds influence the election for partisan gain  should apply to the Senate’s election review.

The Arizona Democratic Party, Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs have lodged a legal challenge to the election review, but have so far been unable to convince a judge to halt — even temporarily  the audit and recount. 

An attorney for the state Democratic Party said Thursday that an agreement was reached that will allow election experts and party representatives to observe the election review as its conducted at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

On Thursday morning, several voting rights organizations, including the Brennan Center for Justice, wrote a letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice to send federal monitors to observe the process.