Should one of the top elections officials in Arizona be serving as the chairman of a political action committee (PAC) he created to support some Arizona Republicans while himself holding elected office?
That is just one of the questions swirling around Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, who created Pro-Democracy Republicans PAC last July to run independent expenditure campaigns in support of GOP primary candidates for the state legislature and some county-level races.
But only for Republican candidates who would acknowledge “the validity of the 2020 election” as well as “condemn the events of January 6, 2021,” Richer has said. The website for Pro-Democracy Republicans PAC goes even further, calling on supporters to reject “conspiracy theorists and demagoguery.”
All of which leaves voters wondering about the legitimacy and integrity of Maricopa County’s elections, given that Richer and his PAC could be involved in bankrolling Republican candidates whose names would appear on the same ballots Richer is responsible for having printed and distributed as the county recorder.
Professor Kathleen Hale of Auburn University’s election administration program has said Richer’s efforts 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.
It is not just the conflict of interest concerns garnering bipartisan attention, however.
Richer’s truthfulness is also under question after he was quoted in a news article as stating the PAC registered in July 2021 already had more than $100,000 in pledges to kick things off. Yet a state campaign finance report filed May 6 by Chad Willems, treasurer for Pro-Democracy Republicans, lists only $51,642.50 in contributions through April 30, 2022.
Of that, $20,000 came from Francis Najafi, the CEO of investment firm Pivotal Group, as two $10,000 payments. Earlier this year Najafi and his wife Dionne donated $25 million to ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management.
However, the biggest revelation in the Pro-Democracy Republicans’ finance reports is that nothing has been expended on behalf of specific candidates, despite the fact the Republican primary election will be held in 10 weeks.
The finance report also shows Richer appears to personally pay a variety of the PAC’s monthly bills even though the organization has a monthly expense for banking service. He then seeks and receives reimbursement for a variety of expenditures, such as postage, website domain, food, software, newsletters, postal box rent, and airfare.
As of April 30, those reimbursements to Richer totaled nearly $5,900, according to the May 6 report. More information about the finances of Pro-Democracy Republicans PAC can be found at https://seethemoney.az.gov/
Yet for Richer, there is nothing improper with what he is doing with the PAC and voters should not be concerned with how it looks for Maricopa County’s elected recorder wanting to be so involved in specific campaigns.
“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,” he said after announcing creation of the PAC.
“The optics are inexcusably bad for a Republican County Recorder to be offering financial support to Republican candidates who will publicly campaign on the idea that his office did a perfect job running a perfect election. Especially since everyone knows it wasn’t a perfect election,” said valley consultant Constantin Querard, who is involved with a large number of races across the state. “His effort will ultimately backfire, because any candidate his PAC would support would pay an insanely high price for it. No Republican candidate wants to be known for defending the 2020 election as a perfect election and he knows it. He might be the only guy in town with a pot of money that no one wants a dollar from.”