Arizona Election Results “Audit” Fundraising By OAN Reporters

BuzzFeed News; OAN via YouTube Two reporters at One America News, a far-right TV station,


BuzzFeed News; OAN via YouTube

Two reporters at One America News, a far-right TV station, are running a dark money organization that they say is helping fund a counter-reality “audit” that former president Donald Trump and his supporters believe will overturn Arizona’s 2020 election results in his favor.

What’s more, one of those reporters, Christina Bobb, is the network’s most visible correspondent covering the very “audit” that she is helping scare up money for on OAN’s airwaves, while she and the network enjoy unique access to the process where private contractors and volunteers are searching for fraud and have examined ballots for nonexistent watermarks and “bamboo fibers.” OAN has a deal as the exclusive livestream partner for the audit.


OAN via YouTube / Via youtube.com

Christina Bobb hosting her show Weekly Briefing on OAN

Bobb has not made a secret of her work to keep that audit going. On April 9, she tweeted that she’d founded a group called Voices and Votes to help the Republican-led Arizona Senate complete its audit of the vote in Maricopa County. The group reached its $150,000 fundraising goal that same day, according to Bobb, and she’s continued soliciting money for the audit since, both on Twitter and on air.

According to its website, Voices and Votes is run by Bobb as the CEO and president, as well as OAN’s White House correspondent Chanel Rion, who is listed as the chief marketing officer, and Courtland Sykes, Rion’s fiancé, who is listed as the group’s chief operations officer. The group’s website also says that Voices and Votes is registered as a 501(c)(4) organization, meaning its donors will never be made public.

That also means that the group will never have to give an accounting of how much money it has raised or where that money actually went. Bobb did not respond when BuzzFeed News asked how much Voices and Votes has brought in, but insisted that all of the money raised “has gone to the auditors.” Cyber Ninjas, the firm leading the audit, and its CEO did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether it had received money from Voices and Votes.

“The audit is dangerously underfunded,” says @christina_bobb on @OANN imploring those who watch to donate to a 501(c)(4) she helped create. We still have no idea how much the audit costs and how much has been spent. Cyber Ninjas originally quoted the senate at $150k


Twitter: @JerodMacEvoy

It’s important to pause here and note that the audit itself is not really an audit at all. What happened is the Arizona Senate, which is controlled by 16 Republicans (to 14 Democrats) sent a subpoena to Maricopa County, which was upheld by a judge, forcing the county to hand over 2.1 million ballots, as well as vote tabulators and a bunch of election data. The “audit,” which is being run by outside contractors hired by the Senate, will have no force or effect on the 2020 election results; Joe Biden is president, and Arizona already did an audit of Maricopa County in the presidential race and didn’t find a single ballot discrepancy. The county itself, which is not involved in the current Senate audit either, also hired two independent firms to review its elections equipment in February, which came back clean as well.

On Monday, Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which is majority Republican, wrote a scathing letter to Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, calling the audit a threat to democracy and telling her to end it. “The Arizona Senate is not acting in good faith, has no intention of learning anything about the November 2020 General Election, but is only interested in feeding the various festering conspiracy theories that fuel the fundraising schemes of those pulling your strings. … The result is that the Arizona Senate is held up to ridicule in every corner of the globe and our democracy is imperiled,” the board wrote.

But, as Bobb told her OAN audience a few weeks ago, the new Senate audit will “unravel the Democrats’ schemes from 2020” and Trump “will determine our next House and Senate” — whatever that means. In the same segment, she backtracked slightly, saying that “maybe” the audit would show there was no fraud. “Maybe,” she said, laughing, “Biden legitimately won Arizona.”

Needless to say, no legitimate newsroom would allow its reporters to fundraise for an actual news event they’re covering. Nonetheless, Bobb has continued soliciting donations for Voices and Votes, actively fundraising to keep the story she is covering going. Bobb tweeted as recently as April 28 that the audit isn’t “fully funded yet” and asked followers to “please help get this audit across the finish line!” That weekend she dedicated segments of her Weekly Briefing show to her reporting from the audit and an interview with the Arizona Republican Party chair.

OANN, of course, is still around doing the livestream and with unfettered access. So, basically, it seems like there’s one set of (restrictive) rules for local and national nonpartisan media in the #azauditpool and another for right-wing outlets like OANN and Gateway Pundit.


Twitter: @JMShumway

After reaching her $150,000 goal, Bobb announced the group’s “second pledge,” this time without naming a monetary goal, tweeting, “Let’s get this audit funded!” with a donation link.

Just a week later, the Arizona Republican Party tweeted that OAN would be the exclusive livestreamer of the audit. The network now runs nine cameras 24/7 showing contractors examining the 2.1 million ballots. And Bobb herself has been there reporting on it for OAN the whole time, posting photos of herself alongside some of the architects of the audit and thanking those “true Patriots” for making it happen.

Bobb and OAN are getting access to the audit that no other news outlets have, reporters on the ground say. While reporters at other Arizona and national media outlets have had to rotate through a few select spots to cover the audit, Bobb and a writer with the Gateway Pundit, another pro-Trump outlet, are exempted from that pool. She reported live from the coliseum where the audit is taking place every day last week.

Bobb disputed that she and OAN had received any “special treatment” in an email to BuzzFeed News on behalf of Voices and Votes. While she acknowledged that she had different access than members of the Arizona press corps, she said her access to cover the audit depended on “availability.” “I have been denied access at certain times and had to go on different days or at different times,” she wrote. “I am not permitted to attend whenever I want.”

Bobb also noted that OAN is not “in any way” affiliated with her fundraising group “other than allowing me to mention my efforts on air” and said the network “has not received anything as a result of Voices and Votes’ donations.”

“I have openly and honestly disclosed all my efforts on air, and have handled the funds exactly as I said that I would,” she said.

Rion did not respond to requests for comment. Fann, the Senate president, deferred questions about OAN’s access to former Arizona secretary of state Ken Bennett, who is serving as an audit liaison. Bennett did not respond to multiple requests.


Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

OAN correspondent Chanel Rion asks then-president Donald Trump a question during a White House press briefing on April 6, 2020.

Bobb noted last week that Arizona senators won’t say what would happen if the audit does find “some type of fraud” — which won’t happen, because legitimate audits have already been conducted — and that senators have said this audit is about promoting trust in future elections, not about 2020. “They would not commit to saying that they would overturn anything, but they did say they were certainly taking a look at it,” she said, citing anonymous Arizona legislators.

OAN did not respond to requests for comment on the conflict between Bobb and Rion’s work for their network and their affiliation with Voices and Votes or whether the network has a conflict-of-interest policy.

The audit itself has so far been a farce, enough so that one of the Republican state senators who voted for it told the New York Times that in practice the audit is “ridiculous” and “makes us look like idiots.” At one point, workers were checking for any traces of bamboo in the ballot paper in a frankly stupid and racist attempt to test a conspiracy theory that thousands of illegal ballots were shipped in from Asia. They were shining UV lights on ballots for reasons that weren’t really explained by officials at the time but seemed to line up with a QAnon-adjacent theory that Trump’s Department of Homeland Security had watermarked real ballots so the Democrats’ fraudulent ones could be easily found. That prompted the Maricopa County Elections Department to publicly post a fact check: “There are NO watermarks on Maricopa County ballots.”

Then there’s the firm that the Arizona Senate hired to run the whole thing, Cyber Ninjas, owned by Doug Logan. As the Arizona Mirror reported, Logan repeatedly posted conspiracies about the election being stolen and falsehoods about Dominion Voting Systems on his since-deleted Twitter account. Logan is also the author of a three-page document of “election fraud facts” posted to former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell’s website intended for senators to use in explaining why they would object to the election results and try to give the White House back to Trump, the Mirror also reported. Logan, it’s worth noting, stood behind the document in a statement to the Mirror.

His firm and three others are now paying contractors $15 an hour and bringing in volunteers to examine the ballots — among them was a former state representative who lost his 2020 race and was also filmed on the Capitol steps during the Jan. 6 insurrection. With the process taking way longer than expected, a big bill is coming and it’s unclear who is paying it.

The Arizona Senate only gave $150,000 in taxpayer money to the project, which they knew was a laughable sum for an election audit of this size, and is allowing Cyber Ninjas to raise the rest from whoever. And several prominent Trump supporters have stepped up. Former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, who has peddled some of the more out-there election conspiracy theories, kicked in $1 million and has his own dark money group raising funds, per the Arizona Republic. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell told the Daily Beast that he had donated. And Lin Wood, an attorney who filed a bunch of lawsuits trying to overturn the election, told Talking Points Memo and confirmed to BuzzFeed News that his 501(c)(4) #FightBack had donated to Bobb’s Voices and Votes.

Meanwhile, reporters at other outlets who are not paying for the audit had to fight to cover it at all. At one point, the Arizona Senate told media that they could only have access to the audit if they signed up for at least five six-hour shifts as volunteer observers. To be clear, they wouldn’t then get to report on the audit, their only access under this plan was as workers for the audit they were trying to cover. And, the Senate said, they could not bring laptops or cellphones or even a paper and pen with them. “People observing even executions are allowed to bring their notebooks in with them,” Arizona Capitol Times reporter Julia Shumway, who has since covered the audit, told BuzzFeed News.

Shumway and her colleagues eventually did get press access to the audit, but only after the Arizona Mirror, the Arizona Republic, and the Arizona Broadcasters Association got lawyers involved. Now, reporters have to pool their resources with one print journalist, one videographer, and one photographer allowed into the audit at any given time, and they must be escorted, even to the bathroom, Shumway said. Meanwhile, Bobb and a reporter for the Gateway Pundit can report outside of the pool.

When asked about the discrepancy in treatment for OAN and the Gateway Pundit and every other news outlet, Fann told PBS that OAN was given livestreaming rights to the audit because “they have covered this from the beginning. They are one of the firms that came in right off the bat and said we will help do all the 24-hour video so everybody has access to this 24/7, that they wanted to be a part of it. So I don’t think that’s a bad idea. If there was another network had come up and said that first, we would have went with them probably.”

She later accused other, unnamed reporters of trespassing and said they had worried about too many members of the media “walk[ing] all over the place and tak[ing] pictures.” Asked if she had any similar concerns about OAN, she responded simply, “No, huh-uh. Nope.” ●

UPDATE

The Arizona Mirror, the Arizona Republic, and the Arizona Broadcasters Association brought the legal fight to get reporters access to the audit. A previous version of this story was unclear on who led the legal effort.