Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer is coming under increasing scrutiny after the botched election in Maricopa County, leading some to question his founding and operation of the Pro-Democracy Republicans PAC, whose stated mission is “to support pro-democracy Arizona Republicans” who reject “conspiracy theorists and demagoguery” from candidates who maintain the 2020 presidential election in Arizona was stolen. In the context of the 2022 election, this is an indication of Richer’s direct opposition to GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, GOP Secretary of State nominee Mark Finchem, several state legislators and candidates for Maricopa County Supervisor.
While Richer’s PAC claims to support Republicans, it has received money from a man who donates to almost exclusively Democrats. Francis Najafi gave $20,000 to his PAC, $60,000 to the Arizona Democratic Party, and $5,300 to Democratic Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is running for governor.
The PAC paid $45,000 to a PAC during the primary called Defending Arizona Values, which is run by Camelback Strategies, a moderate GOP consulting group with ties to the McCain family that raised money this past year, but spent very little on actual candidates.
Similarly, instead of going to candidates, much of the money Richer’s PAC raised has gone to reimburse him for things like airfare, food, and other “operating expenses.” None of it appears to have gone to any candidate.
According to Transparency USA, the PAC received $88,443 in contributions from the third quarter of 2021 until now. It has spent almost all of that money, with a large chunk going out shortly before the primary election.
Appearing on Stephen K. Bannon’s WarRoom Tuesday, State Rep. Jake Hoffman (R – Queen Creek) told host Bannon that Richer’s operation of the partisan PAC was evidence of misconduct and may violate Arizona law.
“[Steven Richer and Bill Gates] are from the McCain wing of the Republican Party – the Establishment wing,” Hoffman said.
The Attorney General’s laid out multiple violations of the law – numerous, in fact. Recorder Richer created a political action committee specifically to oppose candidate that were on the ballot in the election that he was tasked with overseeing. There is clearly misconduct – 16-672 in Arizona Revised statutes is one area that we are looking into to hold these guys accountable.
But conflicts of interest is another area we’re looking into.
And quiet honestly, they have embarrassed not only this state, not only this county, but they’ve embarrassed the country right now. We are the laughing stock of the world, thanks to these guys, and they need to resign.
And if they won’t resign, we will do everything in our power to hold them accountable, come this new legislative session.
Debra Heine of American Greatness reported:
Most of the money raised by the PAC ($45,000) went to Defending Arizona Values.
Independent Arizona, a group that believes “there is more to be gained by working across political and cultural lines than trying to push politics to the extreme,” also donated $7,650 to the group. Defending Arizona Values sent most of those donations ($52,631.73) to Consilium Consulting, a firm run by Kirk Adams, former Chief of Staff to Governor Doug Ducey.|
The Arizona Mirror noted last November that “it’s highly unusual” for an 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.”
Sources told The Sun Times that expenditures made by the Defending Arizona Values PAC were for messaging to Arizona voters to oppose GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, but a review of the most recent filing of the Pro-Democracy Republicans PAC with the Arizona Secretary of State’s office indicates that, up to October 27, 2022, it paid Defending Arizona Values PAC $25,000 for polling services in July 2022 and $20,000 for unspecified mailing services in that same month.
A review of the expenditures made by the Defending Arizona Values PAC during the reporting period beginning July 17, 2022 and ending September 30, 2022 reveals a different use of proceeds than stated by the Pro-Democracy Republicans PAC. During this period it received $45,000 in donations from the Pro-Democracy Republicans PAC and $7,650 in donations from a progressive organization known as Independant Arizona. None of the $52,631 in expenditures made by Defending Arizona Values PAC during this period was for polling, according to its report filed with the Arizona Secretary of State. Instead, that report states that all $52,631 in expenditures were divided between mailings for four candidates, Maricopa County Supervisor Thomas Galvin, State Senate candidate Joanne Osborne, and two other candidates in either local or state legislative races. Neither PAC has filed documentation for donations or expenditures subsequent to October 27, 2022.
Bob Brickman, an election and regulatory attorney in Phoenix, told The Arizona Sun Times he believes it raises at least “the appearance of impropriety, even after balancing 1st Amendment issues.” He stressed that “it’s important for elected officials to understand perception issues, and avoid even perceived improper actions.” He said, “If not, then it becomes a full disclosure issue to the voters who supported him, and letting them know timely the rationale for his actions; otherwise, perception may fuel ‘voter remorse’ leading to possible recall or primary challenge.
Alex Kolodin, who is also an election attorney in Phoenix and who recently won election to the Arizona Legislature, told The Sun Times he intends to sponsor a bill the coming 2023 session to prohibit public officials from running PACs. State Rep. Shawnna Bolick (R-Phoenix) ran one last year that he will revive, HB 2270. It provides, “An individual who is an election officer or employee or who oversees any significant aspect of election operations may not be a chairperson, treasurer or other member of a political action committee.”
Running the PAC may also run afoul of the Arizona State Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct. Richer is an attorney and a member of the bar. Ethical Rule (ER) 8.4 on Misconduct, which includes activities outside of practicing law, prohibits several types of behavior that operating the PAC may violate. Section (c) states that it is professional misconduct to “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” Section (d) prohibits “conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.” Section (e) says an attorney may not “state or imply an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official or to achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.” Comment 5 after the rule states, “Lawyers holding public office assume legal responsibilities going beyond those of other citizens. A lawyer’s abuse of public office can suggest an inability to fulfill the professional role of lawyers.”
The Arizona Daily Independent spoke with Professor Kathleen Hale of Auburn University’s election administration program about Richer’s PAC, who said his entanglement could “have a negative effect on voter trust” due to the partisanship involved. Voters’ perception of a fair election process is impacted by “anything tied overtly to partisan politics,” said Hale, a member of the National Association of Election Officials.
Attorney Robert Gouveia observed on his video show last week that Richer deleted a tweet about his PAC from Nov. 17, 2021. It stated, with a link to the PAC website, “Thanks to a few generous donors this is now launching. Join me if you care about traditional Republican ‘stuff’ (free people, free markets, rule of law), but also don’t believe in conspiracies about the 2020 election or that Jan 6 was a tourist event.” Richer’s tweet retweeted a post by a reporter named Meg Cunningham who announced the formation of his PAC.
Gouveia notes that Richer is supposed to be overseeing an election that counts votes, deciding whether candidates like Kari Lake, Blake Masters, Abe Hamadeh and Mark Finchem win or not — candidates Gouveia believes Richer would refer to as “conspiracy theorists.”
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Michael Patrick Leahy is the Editor in Chief of The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include the most recent available data from the financial reports filed with the Arizona Secretary of State by the Pro-Democracy Republicans PAC and the Defending Arizona Values PAC.