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Business leaders fund election deniers in Secretary of State races

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Republican Michigan Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo addresses the crowd during a rally at the Macomb Community College Sports & Expo Center in Warren, Michigan on Saturday, October 1, 2022.

Todd McInturf | Detroit News | PA

More than two dozen business and corporate leaders are quietly donating to the campaigns of at least four Republicans who pushed false claims about the 2020 election results while running to become secretaries of state, according to a review of state campaign finance disclosures.

the candidates for Secretary of State Jim Marchant, who are running in Nevada; Mark Finchem, Ariz.; Michigan’s Kristina Karamo and Wyoming’s Chuck Gray — all endorsed by former President Donald Trump — contested the 2020 election results during the campaign trail.

If the candidates win, they would have a vital role in both administering the election and counting ballots in 2024 — when Trump could once again lead the GOP presidential ticket.

Nevada, Arizona and Michigan are each considered swing states in presidential elections, and Trump lost to President Joe Biden in all three states. The former president and his allies filed lawsuits challenging the results in those states, only to have the courts throw them out.

The candidates echoed Trump’s false claims that widespread fraud cost him the 2020 election against Biden, allegations that have led to dozens of unsuccessful lawsuits trying to overturn the state’s results and sparked the Deadly US Capitol riot on January 6, 2021. Trump’s political action committee, Save America, donated a combined $17,000 to the Finchem, Marchant and Karamo campaigns, according to a report by campaign watchdog Issue One.

Despite embracing fake election conspiracies, the candidates received donations from business leaders in various sectors. These trade officials began funding presidential candidates in August 2021 and continued giving through September., according to state records.

In total, the 12 Candidates for Secretary of State who contested the 2020 election results raised at least $5.8 million during the two-year 2022 election cycle, said Michael Beckel, director of research at Issue One, in a tweet. The other Republican candidates who have denied the election results are running for secretaries of state in Alabama, Indiana, Connecticut, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont and South Dakota.

Marchant, Finchem, Karamo and Gray’s richest donors include Richard Uihlein, a shipping magnate and conservative megadonor; Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock and current election denier; Jim Henry, the founder of oil and gas drilling company Henry Resources; Kyle Stallings, CEO of oil and gas investment firm Desert Royalty; Lewis Topper, a fast food executive who runs Integrated Food Systems Inc.; Matthew McKean, CEO of energy company Frontier Applied Sciences; Ben Friedman, CEO of restaurant food producer Riviera Produce, and Susan Gore, heiress to the Gore-Tex fortune.

All eight have combined to donate more than $30,000, with donations since the start of last year split between Marchant, Karamo, Gray and Finchem, records show.

Fundraiser for Secretary of State races where 2020 election results deniers are on the ballot

Republican Democrat

State Candidate Amount collected
A-Z Marc Finchem
Adrian Fontes
MID Kristina Karamo
Jocelyn Benson
AL Wes Allen
Pamela Laffitte
Wyoming Chuck Gray
No Democratic opposition
IN Diego Morales
Destiny Scott Wells
CT Dominique Rapini
Stephanie Thomas
NV Jim Marchant
Cisco Aguilar
MN Kim Croquet
Steve Simon
MY Rayla Campbell
Guillaume Galvin
NM Audrey Trujillo
Maggie Toulouse Olivier
South Dakota Monae Johnson
cool tom
Vermont H. Brooke Paige
Sarah Copeland Hanzas

Mike Kalis, CEO of Michigan-based real estate firm Great Lake Investments, donated $1,000 in September to Karamo’s campaign to become Michigan secretary of state. He told CNBC he backed Karamo for his stance on the election — although many of his claims have been denied.

“The number one reason I support her is her strength in wanting our elections to be fair,” Kalis said in an email explaining her donation to Karamo.

Karamo spread false election conspiracies at a rally featuring Trump earlier this month. She claimed that her Democratic opponent, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, aims to “keep the dead on the voter rolls” and “intentionally tries to corrupt the electoral system.”

All other donors mentioned in this story did not respond to requests for comment. When CNBC asked to speak to Jim Henry, the founder of Henry Resources, about contributing to Karamo’s campaign, a company representative said, “Well, he’s not available at the moment, but thank you. for calling”, then quickly hung up.

Beckel noted in an email to CNBC that donors could give future secretary of state candidates help with issues more directly related to their businesses. These could include their handling of the Uniform Commercial Code – which governs transactions in the United States – and the company registration process.

“While secretaries of state typically administer elections, these officials also have responsibilities that impact the business community and how business is conducted in a state,” Beckel said.

Holocaust denier Marchant gets corporate backing

Marchant is running for secretary of state in Nevada — a swing state that Trump lost in 2020 and which will host one of the elections that will determine Senate control this year. At a rally with Trump on Saturday, Marchant said, “President Trump and I lost an election in 2020 because of a rigged election.” Marchant ran to represent Nevada in the United States House in the 2020 election, but lost to Democratic Representative Steven Horsford.

Marchant later added at the rally that “when my coalition of candidates for Secretary of State is elected, we are going to fix the whole country and President Trump will be President again in 2024.” It is unclear who is in Marchant’s coalition, although a PAC he leads has backed candidates such as Finchem and Karamo.

Jim Marchant speaks during a Republican election watch party, Nov. 3, 2020, in Las Vegas.

John Locher | PA

His opponent, Democrat Cisco Aguilar, has outstripped him so far in the election. But much of Marchant’s support has come from business leaders.

Some of Marchant’s largest donations from business or corporate leaders to date include $5,000 from Uihlein, $5,000 from Byrne, $2,900 from Topper, $8,000 from Tradebloc Inc., a Texas-based credit and debt management company, and $5,000 from Nevada home designer Blue. Heron.

Jeff Fegert, the owner of Nevada-based Target Construction, used a limited liability company called Maico Ryder to donate $10,000 to Marchant’s campaign. Maico Ryder’s most recent public disclosure signed by an accountant in April lists Fegert as the sole member of the company, with a Nevada address matching Target Construction.

MDB Realty, a Las Vegas-headquartered real estate company, also donated $100,000 in June to Marchant’s political action committee, the Conservatives for Election Integrity PAC. The PAC endorsed Marchant, Finchem, Karamo and Audrey Trujillo, a Republican candidate for New Mexico secretary of state who also questioned the 2020 election results, according to her website.

Marchant, the chairman of the PAC, is the only current candidate for secretary of state to have received a donation from the committee, according to state documents. Marchant’s campaign secured $10,000 in March from the PAC he leads, according to a filing.

Trujillo pushed his false claims about the 2020 election on a podcast hosted by former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

“Someone asked me, ‘How do you know Trump won New Mexico?’ and I’m like, ‘We haven’t seen any sign of Biden anywhere,'” Trujillo told Bannon in June.