PHOENIX — A Twitter site being run by the man the Senate has overseeing the audit of the 2020 election is trying to get people to donate to a private operation to finance the procedure — a private operation that doesn’t have to disclose its donors.
And Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who tapped Ken Bennett for the role of her liaison, said through a spokesman she doesn’t know anything about it.
Maricopa Arizona Audit is listed as the “official (Twitter) account managed on behalf of Senate Liaison Ken Bennett.” He is the person retained by Sen. Fann to be the link between the Senate, which ordered the audit, and Cyber Ninjas, the private Florida-based firm with whom she signed a contract to conduct it.
But now that Twitter operations is directing people who want to help to the web site of “fundtheaudit.com/maricopa/” where people can donate by credit card or e-check.
That is the site 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 no more than $150,000, according to a contract Sen. Fann signed with Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas.
Just that choice itself has raised questions: Mr. Logan previously made statements questioning whether Donald Trump actually lost the election.
Now comes the question of not just having Mr. Bennett’s official Twitter feed trying to raise outside money but where he is telling people they can send their donations.
Mr. Bennett told Capitol Media Services he has no problem directing followers of the official web site to The America Project.
“I’m just trying to give information to people if they want to support the fund, to support the audit financially,” he said. Mr. Bennett said the web site to which he is referring people is “a legitimate place to do so.”
But this is hardly a neutral operation.
It actually was founded earlier this year by Patrick Byrne, former CEO of Overstock.com. Mr. 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 web site says was set up by Chinese-Americans who fled communism. “It didn’t end for us on Jan. 20.”
It’s not just that the Senate, through Mr. Bennett, is listing a specific website for people to donate to this private operation.
There’s also the fact The American Project is organized under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code as a “social welfare organization.” That means the names of people who follow Mr. Bennett’s Twitter link and go to The American Project website to donate money do not have to be made public.
Mr. Bennett said he was unaware that 501(c)(4) organizations could keep their donors secret. But Mr. Bennett said he’s not concerned.
“That’s a problem with dark money in politics on both sides,” he said.
No one from The America Project returned messages seeking information on the fundraising effort.
Mr. Logan himself acknowledged his company has received outside dollars, 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 dollars to run elections.
“I agree,” Mr. 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,” Mr. 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 Mr. 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,” Mr. Barr continued. “And they should be completely transparent about what is happening, who’s involved with this and who’s paying for it.”
Mr. 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.”
So what makes him define The America Project as a “legitimate” fundraising operation that should get a boost from his official Twitter feed?
“I believe 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,” Mr. 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,” Mr. Bennett said of the audit.
“I think they’re spending 100 grand a day,” he 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” including audits elsewhere and related expenses.