Corporate leaders fund election deniers in secretary of state races


Michigan Republican secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo addresses the crowd during a rally at the Macomb Community College Sports & Expo Center in Warren, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.

Todd McInturf | Detroit News | AP

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

Secretary of state candidates Jim Marchant, running in Nevada; Mark Finchem, in Arizona; Kristina Karamo, in Michigan, and Chuck Gray, in Wyoming — all endorsed by former President Donald Trump — have disputed the 2020 election results on the campaign trail.

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

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

The candidates have echoed Trump’s false claims that widespread fraud cost him the 2020 election against Biden, allegations that led to dozens of failed lawsuits attempting to overturn state results and prompted the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot. Trump’s political action committee, Save America, has donated $17,000 combined to the Finchem, Marchant and Karamo campaigns, according to a report by campaign watchdog Issue One.

Despite the fact they have embraced false election conspiracies, the candidates have received donations from corporate leaders across a variety of industries. Those business officials started financing the secretary of state candidates in August 2021 and continued their donations through September, according to state records.

Overall, the 12 secretary of state candidates who have disputed the 2020 election results have raised at least $5.8 million over the two-year 2022 election cycle, said Michael Beckel, a research director at Issue One, in a tweet. The other Republican candidates who have denied the election results are running to be secretaries of state in Alabama, Indiana, Connecticut, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont and South Dakota.

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

All eight have combined to give over $30,000, with donations since the start of last year split among Marchant, Karamo, Gray and Finchem, records show.

Fundraising for secretary of state races where deniers of the 2020 election results are on the ballot

◼  Republican    ◼  Democrat

State Candidate Amount raised
AZ Mark Finchem
Adrian Fontes
MI Kristina Karamo
Jocelyn Benson
AL Wes Allen
Pamela Laffitte
WY Chuck Gray
No Democratic opposition
IN Diego Morales
Destiny Scott Wells
CT Dominic Rapini
Stephanie Thomas
NV Jim Marchant
Cisco Aguilar
MN Kim Crockett
Steve Simon
MA Rayla Campbell
William Galvin
NM Audrey Trujillo
Maggie Toulouse Oliver
SD Monae Johnson
Tom Cool
VT H. Brooke Paige
Sarah Copeland Hanzas

Mike Kalis, the CEO of Michigan-based real estate firm Great Lake Investments, gave $1,000 in September to Karamo’s campaign to be Michigan’s secretary of state. He told CNBC that he supports Karamo for her stance on elections — though many of her claims have been debunked.

“The number 1 reason I support her is her strength in wanting to make our elections have integrity,” Kalis said in an email explaining his 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 dead people on the voter rolls” and is “intentionally trying to corrupt the election system.”

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

Beckel noted in an email to CNBC that donors could be giving to secretary of state candidates for future help with issues more directly tied to their businesses. Those could include their handling of the Uniform Commercial Code — which governs transactions in the U.S. — and the process of registering corporations.

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

Election denier Marchant gets corporate support

Marchant is running to be secretary of state in Nevada — a swing state that Trump lost in 2020 and which will play host to 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 U.S. House during the 2020 election but lost to Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford.

Marchant later added at the rally that “when my coalition of secretary of state candidates get elected, we’re going to fix the whole country and President Trump is going to be president again in 2024.” It is unclear who is part of Marchant’s coalition, though a PAC he runs has backed candidates including Finchem and Karamo.

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

John Locher | AP

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

Some of Marchant’s biggest donations from corporate leaders or businesses so far 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 firm, and $5,000 from Nevada-based 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 real estate firm headquartered in Las Vegas, also gave $100,000 in June to Marchant’s political action committee, Conservatives for Election Integrity PAC. The PAC has endorsed Marchant, Finchem, Karamo and Audrey Trujillo, a Republican candidate to be New Mexico’s secretary of state who has also questioned the results of the 2020 election, according to its website.

Marchant, the PAC’s president, is the only current secretary of state candidate who has received a donation from the committee, state filings show. Marchant’s campaign got $10,000 in March from the PAC he leads, according to a filing.

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

“Somebody asked me, ‘How do you know Trump won New Mexico?’ and I’m like, ‘We didn’t see Biden signs anywhere,'” Trujillo told Bannon in June.

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