Arizona GOP legislators continue to give oxygen to disproven election conspiracies
At a full-day airing of election conspiracies, one woman accused the lawmakers themselves of taking bribes
Protestors in support of former President Donald Trump gather outside Veterans Memorial Coliseum where Ballots from the 2020 general election wait to be counted on May 1, 2021. The Maricopa County ballot recount comes after two election audits found no evidence of widespread fraud in Arizona. Photo by Courtney Pedroza | Getty Images/pool
Arizona legislative Republicans are continuing their parade of ever-more dubious election conspiracy theorists spreading unproven claims in legislative hearings, even after a report from the Republican former Attorney General’s office showed that all of the 2020 election fraud theories it investigated were baseless.
Since early January, the Republican-controlled elections committees in both the state House of Representatives and Senate, headed by Rep. Jacqueline Parker of Mesa and Sen. Wendy Rogers of Flagstaff, respectively, have forwarded a slew of election reform bills that would make using any kind of technology to vote illegal, force hand counts of all ballots, severely restrict voting by mail and early voting, and dump everyone from the voters rolls once per decade, among many other proposed changes to the state’s election system.
But in addition to approving sometimes conflicting election bills, the committees have also sought to legitimize numerous election conspiracy theorists and purveyors of the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump by scheduling time for them to brief lawmakers on their election theories.
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In perhaps the most bizarre presentation given to the committee so far this year, Gilbert insurance agent Jacqueline Breger accused Gov. Katie Hobbs, several of the Maricopa County Supervisors, 12 Maricopa County Superior Court judges and the mayor of Mesa of taking bribes from the Sinaloa drug cartel in the form of money laundered through a housing deed scam. She also accused the legislators themselves of being on the take.
She said in her Feb. 23 presentation to a joint meeting of the House and Senate elections committees that the bribery scheme also included election fraud in Maricopa County.
Breger did not provide any evidence to back up her claims, except to point to a book soon to be released by John Thaler, a Valley attorney and her boyfriend. During the committee meeting, Breger repeatedly mentioned a woman who had tipped Thaler off to the supposed racketeering scheme, but she failed to mention that woman was Thaler’s ex-wife, who he claims kidnapped their son.
At one point during Breger’s presentation, Republican Sen. Ken Bennett of Prescott told her that she had gone too far, and Rogers added that Breger needed to stay on the topic of the election.
Breger told the committee that Thaler had delivered his findings about the alleged bribery to then-Gov. Doug Ducey in May 2022. If Ducey received that information, he and his administration did not act on it.
Breger also failed to mention that Thaler had filed multiple suits against his ex, as well as multiple city of Mesa officials and that in those suits he accused the city officials of being involved in racketeering, taking bribes and election fraud.
A judge dismissed all the claims that Thaler made in the suits in the U.S. District Court of Arizona, according to court documents.
“Mr. Thaler’s complaint weaves a delusional and fantastical narrative that does not comport with federal pleading standards,” the court said in one of its rulings. Lawsuits he’s filed in state courts have also been rejected for similar reasons.
Breger was invited to speak before the committee by Chandler Republican Rep. Liz Harris, a QAnon promoter who runs a website devoted to baseless 2020 election fraud conspiracies.
At the end of Breger’s presentation, both rogers and Rep. Rachel Jones, R-Tucson, called Breger brave for what she had shared.
But Bennett told the Arizona Mirror that he felt the people that Breger accused of committing crimes should have gotten a chance to defend themselves, instead of being called out during a public meeting.
“We were hearing a whole bunch of information about a whole bunch of illegal stuff when we were supposed to be talking about elections,” Bennett said. “It felt very disconnected from what the meeting was supposed to be about.”
Breger’s presentation came just a day after Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes released documents showing that her Republican predecessor had devoted 60 staffers and 10,000 hours to investigating the 2020 election, but had found no evidence of fraud.
Many of those claims stemmed from the Arizona Senate’s partisan “audit” of the 2020 election, which was helmed by Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based company led by a Donald Trump-loving election conspiracy theorist.
“In each instance, the information provided by [Cyber Ninjas] was inaccurate and false,” investigators concluded.
The Attorney General’s Office disproved claims that hundreds of dead people voted in the 2020 election, that thousands of illegal votes were added to the totals and that people who weren’t registered voted in the election.
Out of 638 complaints, which generated 430 investigations, just 22 cases were submitted to be reviewed by prosecutors, and only two so far have resulted in convictions. Both of those were men who failed to list their felon status on their voter registration and voted in the 2020 election while they were inmates in the Pima County jail.
Democratic members of the elections committees, who had thus far participated in the committees’ regular meetings, refused to take part in the full-day of election conspiracy theory presentations that the committee heard Feb. 23.
“The House Democratic members of the Municipal Oversight and Elections Committee will not attend today’s seven-hour circus of debunked election conspiracies,” the House Democrats said in a Feb. 23 statement. “We were given less than 24 hours’ notice and not consulted on the list of speakers or topics. If we had been, we would have suggested the Committee instead examine the stunning report released Wednesday by Attorney General Kris Mayes that showed in exhaustive detail how her Republican predecessor’s attorneys spent more than 10,000 hours investigating claims of fraud in the 2020 election and found nothing.”
In addition to Breger’s presentation, the committees also heard from several so-called election “experts” that seemed unfamiliar with the specifics of Arizona election law.
John Mills, a retired U.S. Army colonel who previously worked in cybersecurity for the Secretary of Defense, told the committee that Arizona should move to all paper ballots. All Arizona voters already use paper ballots, unless they have a disability and need to use a special device.
Mills also claimed that allowing people to register to vote when they get a new driver’s license is a problem, because you don’t have to prove your citizenship to get a driver’s license. But in Arizona, people are required to prove their legal status in the country to get a driver’s license, and those who don’t submit proof of citizenship are only allowed to vote in federal elections.
Also testifying before the committees was Seth Keshel, one of the originators of the Big Lie. Keshel, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, shared his theory that something was off about the 2020 presidential election in Arizona because hundreds of thousands more Democrats than he expected voted in that election.
Keshel’s theory is based on voting trends in Arizona over the past 75 years, during most of which the state was solidly red. But suspicion that too many Democrats turned out in that election to be plausible ignores the fervor ahead of the election that drew large numbers of both Republicans and Democrats to the voting booths that year, with record turnouts, as well as the changing demographics of Arizona.
Democrats on the legislature’s elections committees weren’t the only ones with criticisms for the committee and its continued fealty to election conspiracies.
“That hearing was an embarrassment and a waste of time,” Josselyn Berry, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office, told the Arizona Mirror. “We would love to see them expend the same amount of energy to real issues rooted in reality, like our water crisis or affordable housing issue. The Governor is focused on delivering real results for Arizonans. She didn’t waste a single minute of her day on that committee hearing and isn’t going to waste one now by responding to the latest baseless conspiracy theory.”
***UPDATE: This story was updated to include comments from Sen. Ken Bennett.
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