Republican candidates who reject the false and baseless claims that the last election was rigged may have some extra financial support in the next one, courtesy of Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer.
Richer, a Republican who was elected in 2020, has created a new political action committee called Pro-Democracy Republicans of Arizona. The PAC will run independent expenditure campaigns in favor of candidates in GOP primaries for legislative and county-level races who “acknowledge the validity of the 2020 election and condemn the events of January 6, 2021 as a terrible result of the lies told about the November election,” according to a press statement on Wednesday announcing the committee’s formation.
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For an elections official to get involved in campaigns in such a way is a rarity. Many county recorders and secretaries of state refrain from even endorsing candidates to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
The PAC’s goal is to elect Republicans who will help return the GOP to a party that supports the rule of law and celebrates smooth and peaceful transitions of power under a democratic system, Richer told the Arizona Mirror.
“Obviously, there are some Republicans who have courageously stood up and acknowledged the truth, and there are others who haven’t. We would be supporting the former,” Richer said.
Since taking office in January, Richer has been one of Arizona’s most vocal Republicans defending the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. He has repeatedly spoken out against the many bogus allegations that have proliferated, and has been a strident critic of the state Senate’s so-called “audit” of the election in Maricopa County that was prompted by those claims.
But outside of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, of which four of the five members are Republicans, Richer has had little company among elected officials. Polling has consistently shown that a majority of Republicans falsely believe that the 2020 election was rigged, and few elected Republicans publicly challenge that notion. Those who do often become the focus of intense ire from GOP voters. Conversely, some Republican legislators have boosted their profile and created political identities around their rejection of the election results.
Richer said he wants to change the “incentive structure” surrounding the debate around the 2020 election.
“We know that there’s a pot of gold at the and of the rainbow if you indulge some of these fantasies and some of these lies, and I think, quite frankly, that has motivated some of these speakers to be especially loud about it because they get rewarded in either Twitter followers or financial contributions from across the country,” he said. “So, this is my effort to at least reward or incentivize people to do the right thing, the responsible thing.”
And electing more “outspoken, consistent defenders of the democratic process” could help persuade others to defend the integrity of the 2020 election, Richer said. He said other Republicans have thanked him for the positions he’s taken and said they feel alienated by others from their people who spread the false claims.
The PAC already has more than $100,000 in seed money, Richer said. He wouldn’t say where that money came from, though that information will be in the committee’s first campaign finance report, which must be filed with the Secretary of State’s Office by Jan. 15. Richer created the PAC in July, according to online records from the secretary of state. As of mid-October, it had raised about $1,000.
Pro-Democracy Republicans of Arizona will primarily focus on legislative and county races, and, with the exception of a special election for a currently vacant seat on the Board of Supervisors, there won’t be any county races on the ballot next year. Richer said the legislature has given voice to many conspiracy theories about the election, and noted that it was Senate President Karen Fann who initiated the “audit” of the election results in Maricopa County, which he said was likely due to support among her caucus for the election-rigging allegations.
Richer said he doesn’t know yet who the PAC will support in next year’s elections. He pointed to House Speaker Rusty Bowers, whose rejection of Trump’s efforts to challenge President Joe Biden’s win in Arizona last year was chronicled in an Arizona Republic story on Wednesday, as the type of Republican the PAC will support.
Is it better to ‘stay above the fray’ or be a ‘political actor’?
It’s highly unusual for an elected elections official such as Richer to get involved in elections the way he’s planning to do, and by spending in elections that his office will oversee, he may open himself up to allegations of impropriety from candidates his PAC opposes.
Former Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, a Republican who held the position from 1989 to 2017, said it’s a bad idea for Richer to run a PAC while serving as the county’s top election official. During her 28 years as county recorder, Purcell went so far as to shy away from even endorsing another candidate. A rare exception came in 2014, when she endorsed longtime ally Michele Reagan in the race for secretary of state, which she now believes was a mistake.
Purcell said people might question the results if election officials involve themselves politically in elections — particularly if a race is close. And that is doubly true now, she said, given the skepticism that many people have about the election process due to the allegations about the 2020 presidential race.
“People are too skeptical about our election process. So, stay above that fray so you don’t have any questions,” Purcell said.
Richer, however, said he’s not concerned and doesn’t consider it inappropriate for an elections official to run independent expenditures.
“I think that’s a conversation that Arizona probably should have. Do we want our election officials to be partisan, elected, political actors? The reality is, we are. I ran as a Republican. Adrian was a very outspoken Democrat,” he said, referring to Adrian Fontes, the Democratic incumbent Richer ousted last year. “I would say in my instance the politics were more brought to me than I brought the politics to it.”
Richer noted that machines, not people, read and tabulate ballots. And he said the Board of Supervisors, and not his office, has statutory authority over ballot tabulation. In 2019, the board voted to strip Fontes of some of his authority and appointed a director of Election Day and emergency voting who answers directly to the supervisors.
“I can keep myself out of the tabulation room. I’ll do that. But the reality is that nobody who wanted to know about how I feel about this issue should have been in doubt about how I feel about this issue,” Richer said. “I’m doing my bit to help my party, and hopefully Arizona, be in a better place, vis a vis the peaceful, successful process of democracy.”
Jack Sellers, chairman of the Board of Supervisors and an ally of Richer in defending the validity of the 2020 election, said he’s not concerned about the county recorder’s role with the new PAC. He said he’s confident that Richer will keep his election advocacy and personal opinions separate from his role as the county’s top elections official.
“Being the recorder, I think that he’s certainly experienced firsthand that people in the Republican Party today are attacking things that they shouldn’t be, that maybe they’re not focused enough on the old principles of the party. I like what he’s doing,” Sellers said.
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