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Election audit liaison pushes private fundraising website
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Election audit liaison pushes private fundraising website

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PHOENIX — A social media posting by the man the Arizona Senate has overseeing the ballot audit of the 2020 election is trying to get people to donate to a private operation to help finance the ballot-counting effort.

The private fundraising effort being pushed by Ken Bennett — the Senate-appointed liaison for the audit — can keep the identity of donors secret from the public.

And Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who tapped Bennett for the liaison role, said through a spokesman that she knows nothing about the posting on Twitter.

Maricopa Arizona Audit is listed as the “official (Twitter) account managed on behalf of Senate Liaison Ken Bennett.” He serves as the person retained by Fann to be the link between the Senate, which ordered the audit, and Cyber Ninjas, the private firm with whom she signed a contract to conduct it.

But now that Twitter operation is directing people who want to help to fundtheaudit.com, where people can donate by credit card or e-check.

And that is the website being operated by The America Project, started by a millionaire who says the election results were fraudulent. It is trying to raise $2.8 million “to support and pay for expenses of the Maricopa Audit.”

That’s the audit that was billed as costing taxpayers no more than $150,000, according to a contract Fann signed with Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas.

Just that choice itself has raised questions: Logan has previously made statements questioning whether Donald Trump lost the election.

Now comes the question of not just having Bennett’s official Twitter feed trying to raise outside money, but where he is telling people they can send their donations.

Bennett told Capitol Media Services Thursday that he has no problem directing followers to The America Project website.

“I’m just trying to give information to people if they want to support the fund, to support the audit financially,” he said. He said the website is “a legitimate place to do so.”

But it is hardly a neutral operation.

It actually was founded earlier this year by Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of overstock.com. And Byrne, in an interview last month with ntd.com, said he was setting up the organization to continue the fight over the 2020 election results.

“It was a fraudulent election,” he told the television network, short for New Tang Dynasty, which its website says was set up by Chinese-Americans who fled communism. “It didn’t end for us on Jan. 20.”

The American Project is organized under section 501©(4) of the Internal Revenue Code as a “social welfare organization.” That means the names of the people who follow Bennett’s Twitter link and donate to The American Project, do not have to be made public.

Bennett said he was unaware that 501©(4) organizations could keep their donors secret. But Bennett went on to say he’s not concerned.

“That’s a problem with dark money in politics on both sides,” Bennett said.

No one from The America Project returned messages seeking information on the fundraising effort.

Logan himself has acknowledged that his company has received outside funding, beyond the $150,000 from the Senate, to conduct the audit. But he said he does not know who has donated to the audit.

The push to funnel money to that outside group — one that doesn’t disclose donors — comes on the heels of the Legislature just this year voting to make it illegal for the state and counties to accept outside funding to help run elections.

“I agree,” said Bennett, a Republican and a former secretary of state, said of the new law.

“All the monies that are spent on elections should come out of that Arizona state general fund,” Bennett said. “And there should be no questions about whether any of it is coming from places that make us wonder whether it’s affecting the procedures or anything else.”

That law, which takes effect later this year, does not apply to election audit activities of the Senate itself. And Bennett said he sees no reason to stop anonymous donations for the audit that wind up going to Cyber Ninjas.

But Dan Barr, attorney for the First Amendment Coalition, said the public should know who is funding this.

“This is an audit that’s occurring under the color of state law,” he said.

“It’s occurring under the authority of the Arizona State Senate,” Barr continued. “And they should be completely transparent about what is happening, who’s involved with this and who’s paying for it.”

Bennett also said he sees nothing improper about the whole concept of using the audit as a reason to raise money.

“I think it’s, I’m sure, a fundraising boom for the Democrats to get people to send money to stop it, as well as the Republicans who are trying to get money to further it along,” he said. “I was just trying to provide one of the outlets where there’s legitimate funds being raised there to pay for the amount in excess of the Senate’s $150,000 contract.”

What makes Bennett define The America Project as a “legitimate” fundraising operation that should get a boost from his official Twitter feed?

“I believe that that is a site that fundraising therein will pay for the cost of this audit as opposed to being used for other political purposes or whatever,” Bennett said.

But he had no answer to the question of the organization’s goal to raise $2.8 million on top of the $150,000 in taxpayer dollars already allocated.

“It may cost that,” Bennett said of the audit.

“I think they’re spending 100 grand a day,” Bennett continued. “And if you do that 30 days, that’s $3 million.”

But the America Project website says if more money is raised than the goal it will use the funds “for other election integrity activities.” That includes election audits elsewhere and related expenses.


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