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Trump-backed conspiracy theorist vies to take control of Arizona election


Policy

If he loses his own race, Mark Finchem said at a fundraiser in June, “there will be no concession speeches from this guy.”

Mark Finchem, Republican nominee for Arizona Secretary of State, at a luncheon in Sun City West, Arizona, June 17, 2022. Adriana Zehbrauskas/The New York Times

PHOENIX — This spring, Mark Finchem traveled to Mar-a-Lago in Florida for the premiere of a documentary advancing the specious idea that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from President Donald Trump by an army of leftists. filling drop boxes with mail-in ballots. As a state representative and candidate for secretary of state in Arizona, Finchem was a minnow among the assembled MAGA stars, like Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

But he still had his time face to face.

“President Trump took 20 minutes with me,” Finchem later recounted during a campaign stop. “And he said, ‘I want you to understand something. The Arizona Secretary of State breed is the largest breed in the United States.

Arizona, of course, holds a special place on Trump’s election indignities map – as the former Republican stronghold where President Joe Biden’s narrow and crucial victory was first announced by, of all networks. , Fox News. If Trump runs again in 2024, a friendly secretary of state, as the state’s election administrator, might be able to help him avoid a repeat run.

Now, as Arizona gears up for its primaries on Tuesday, Finchem is the nominee for a Trump-backed America First coalition of more than a dozen 2020 election deniers who have sought once-obscure secretary of state jobs. Across the country. While most of them were seen as extremists by far, a recent poll gave Finchem an edge in the four-way Republican race in Arizona, though a significant majority of voters are undecided.

Finchem’s campaign statements testify to the evolution of the “Stop the Steal” movement: it’s as much about influencing future elections as it is about what happened in 2020.

Trump-backed conspiracy theorist vies to take control of Arizona election
Arizona State Rep. Mark Finchem, whom Donald Trump has endorsed in a bid for secretary of state, speaks at a rally of Trump supporters in Florence, Arizona on 15 January 2022. – driana Zehbrauskas/The New York Times

To that end, Finchem, who has identified himself as a member of the Oath Keepers militia in the past, might be the perfect subversive candidate. Like his compatriots from America First, he is simply trying to upset the vote.

He wants to ban early voting and severely restrict mail-in ballots, even though the latter were popular in Arizona long before the pandemic. He is already suing to suspend the use of all electronic vote counting machines in Arizona, in a lawsuit funded by conspiracy theorist and pillow mogul Mike Lindell. And he co-sponsored a bill that would give the state’s Republican-led legislature the power to overturn election results.

If he loses his own race, Finchem said at a fundraiser in June, “there will be no concession speeches from this guy.”

Finchem did not respond to requests for comment on this article, and one of its attorneys declined to comment. But in a May email, he assured Republican supporters that had he been in power in 2020, “we would have won. Plain and simple. In the days following the election, he co-hosted an unofficial hearing at a downtown Phoenix hotel where Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, aired false allegations of a stolen election. He was instrumental in trying to advance a list of fake Trump voters in Arizona – part of a plan to void elections in a number of states that is being investigated by the Department of Justice — and he’s helping collect signatures to seek state decertification. election results, even if this is not legally possible.

Finchem also marched toward the Capitol on January 6, 2021. He said he did not come within 500 yards, but photos surfaced showing him near the Capitol steps. He is not among the oath keepers who have been criminally charged, although he was subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the attack.

Trump called him “the kind of fighter we need” in his endorsement and invited him to speak at his recent rally in Arizona. Meanwhile, the other three Republican candidates for secretary of state, who in Arizona also serve as lieutenant governor, served in various positions in the 2020 election.

State Rep. Shawnna Bolick says she wouldn’t have certified Biden’s victory in 2020 even if it were legally required: “That would have been nice,” she said during a debate. “I would have broken the law.” The other two candidates – Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Beau Lane, an advertising executive – say they would have followed the law and certified the election.

“I don’t think he helps build confidence in elections, I think he sows doubt in elections, and that’s not what the secretary of state should be doing,” Lane told about Finchem in an interview.

“I don’t accept that the election was rigged,” Lane said, adding that while there were “cases of fraud” that should be prosecuted, he hadn’t seen “evidence of fraud generalized organization which would have changed the result”.

A Michigan transplant, Finchem, 65, has spent more than seven years as a lawmaker for a district outside of Tucson, which on a recent visit was a 115-degree boiling valley amid mountains and of cacti. He adopted a sheriff-in-the-sun aesthetic, favoring large cowboy hats that belie his Detroit birthplace, and served as the Arizona coordinator for the Western States Coalition, a group that supported formerly the armed occupation of federal lands in Oregon.

He speaks in a sober and serious tone and presents himself as a common-sense family man. Asked about his family life by an interviewer, he said that “his children are all grown up and gone” and added that nowadays “I think of my grandchildren” in the battles he fights.

But her family life was turbulent. He has been married four times and separated for more than two decades from two adult children, and he does not know their children, family members said. (He also has two stepchildren.)

He frequently speaks of his experience as a police officer and firefighter in Kalamazoo, Michigan. But personnel records obtained from the Department of Public Safety in that city, which he left in 1999, include this note in his file: “Retired, bad grade, would not hire again.” A department spokesperson declined to comment.

Finchem has raised more than $1.2 million, a considerable sum for a campaign for secretary of state. (Lane raised about $1.1 million, while the other two candidates trailed far behind.) Much of the money comes from out of state — seven of the eight donors listed as having donated the maximum of $5,300 in his last two campaign deposits were elsewhere. The main donors are Brian T. Kennedy, former president of the right-wing Claremont Institute, and Michael Marsicano, former mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, who recently lost a Republican congressional primary.

However, there are few visible signs of a general staff or campaign office. About three-quarters of his expenses, more than $750,000, went to a Florida political consulting firm run by Spence Rogers, the nephew of Wendy Rogers, an Arizona lawmaker with ties to white nationalists. according to campaign documents. Another $53,000, or nearly 5% of his total spending, went to Trump’s resort at Mar-a-Lago. (Many other Trump-backed candidates have done the same, including Kari Lake, Trump’s favorite candidate for governor of Arizona, whose campaign spent more than $100,000 at Mar-a-Lago.)

Finchem’s handling of donor money has drawn attention. Last year, he asked for contributions from a political action committee to help pay for an election hearing. But he ordered his followers to send money “to his personal Venmo and PayPal accounts,” rather than to the PAC itself, according to a complaint from nonprofit group Campaign for Accountability. State law prohibits the mixing of political and personal funds. Current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, referred the case to Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, who has not acted on it; his office said insufficient cause had been established.

Finchem limits his media appearances largely to right-wing talk shows; he is a frequent guest on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast. His embrace of conspiracy theories is expansive. He argues that Marxists conspired to manipulate the 2020 election, that people voted with “software that reverses votes”, that Biden is “a fraudulent president”. The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol “was staged,” he said. “The whole thing was a setup.”

Finchem also said that Hezbollah operates camps in Mexico in conjunction with drug cartels and that the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia “wrote Deep State PSYOP all over the place.” He embraced QAnon’s theories, saying “lots of elected officials” are involved in a pedophile ring. He espouses a version of the so-called Great Replacement Theory, saying that “Democrats are trying to import voters” and “want to flood the area with people who don’t have a right to be here.”

His endlessly conspiratorial bent has his fans – but also opened him up to ridicule. As one trolling commenter on Finchem’s Facebook page put it: “Mark Finchem KNOWS that every voting machine contains a child illegal immigrant, and every time you vote for our precious Eternal President, Lord Donald Trump, that immigrant illegal changes your vote to a vote for HUGO. HAVE!

Reginald Bolding, the State House Minority Leader and one of two Democratic primary candidates for secretary of state, said a victory for Finchem “would signal that our elections would not be safe and secure. and “would be manipulated by party affiliation and the results he wants.”

“I don’t know if Mark Finchem actually believes the things he says, but they are not based on reality,” he added.

Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, endorsed Lane, as did many in the business world. Finchem sees in his competitor yet another conspiracy: “Beau Lane is a Democratic factory,” he recently tweeted. Lane, for his part, called Finchem’s plan to stop using vote-counting machines fanciful.

“It’s something that’s logistically impossible in Arizona,” he said. “Maybe you could pull that off in Wyoming or South Dakota or Delaware. But Arizona is one of the 15 most populous states. And that just doesn’t make sense.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.



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