Jan 9, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP candidates cash in on Trump's false election claims

Screen grabs of ads from the Senate candidates’ campaigns. Compilation by Axios Aïda Amer
Screenshots of ads from the GOP Senate campaigns. Compilation: Aïda Amer/Axios

Trumpy Republicans are using baseless 2020 election fraud claims to fill their coffers for this year’s Senate primaries.

Why it matters: In the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack, even former President Trump's most fervent supporters were unwilling to fight against certifying the election and fuel far-right claims Joe Biden didn't win. A year later, that's no longer true.

  • GOP candidates at the top of tickets in the most competitive Senate races in the country are gaining momentum and popularity by feeding off the lies being perpetuated by Trump and his supporters.
  • They're not only using it to gain popularity among the MAGA base but also to fill their campaign coffers.

Who we're watching:

Adam Laxalt: The Nevada Senate candidate, a former Republican state attorney general and Trump campaign state co-chairman, participated in 2020 election challenges and said he's planning to start new challenges in 2022.

Jim Lamon: The Arizona Senate candidate backed a number of lawsuits attacking the 2020 election results, including suing former Vice President Mike Pence for his role in certifying the results.

  • Lamon "strongly believes audits in elections and government should be more common, not less," a campaign spokesperson told Axios in an email.

Ron Hanks: Hanks attended the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally and said he marched with supporters to the U.S. Capitol, though nothing has placed him inside the Capitol during the insurrection.

Mo Brooks: The current House Republican and Alabama Senate candidate has been a leading proponent of election fraud claims.

Marjorie Eastman: The U.S. Army combat veteran, who recently jumped into the North Carolina Senate race, has declined to say whether Biden was legitimately elected. Her campaign website includes a section on "election integrity."

Go deeper: After Nevada certified its results, Laxalt filed another lawsuit, which the state of Nevada moved to dismiss. Laxalt has since threatened to preemptively prepare legal challenges to the 2022 election.

  • He's now fundraising off of those plans. In a Nov. 11 email to supporters, his campaign wrote: "In 2020, Adam Laxalt stood side-by-side with President Trump and fought for election integrity."
  • In response to our reporting, Laxalt told Axios: "[Democrats'] partisan transformation of Nevada’s system handed election officials an untested process that generated over 750,000 mail-in votes, unclean voter rolls, loose ballots and virtually no signature verification.
  • "Nevadans have a right to more transparency, and voters deserve confidence in the accuracy of election results, and I will proudly fight for them."

Lamon also funded security for the audit in Arizona's Maricopa County.

  • He's launched Facebook campaign ads touting his lawsuits against Pence and Gov. Doug Ducey, and claims he's "the only candidate who's fought for Election integrity since Day One."
  • Days before Lamon jumped into the Senate race, he gave $2 million to the right-wing nonprofit Look Ahead America. It was a key player in efforts to overturn 2020 election results.
  • Look Ahead America recently had its 501(c)(3) tax status reinstated, meaning Lamon's donation — which is funding a voter registration and turnout program in Arizona — will be retroactively tax-deductible.
  • "I don’t know why he wouldn’t take a deduction," his spokesperson said.

Hanks hosted the Colorado elections conspiracy forum to discuss what he claimed were “election anomalies” and said Republicans "can't be gracious losers."

Brooks infamously spoke at the Jan. 6 “Save America” rally outside the White House.

He told protesters "to do what it takes to fight for America" and later signed onto a House Republican amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of overturning the election results.

  • Following the election, Brooks quickly latched onto Trump's false claims, stating "if only lawful votes by eligible American citizens were cast, Donald Trump won the electoral college by a significant margin” — among other similar claims.
  • He's been running Facebook ads featuring videos and pictures of him speaking at the rally that call for sending “a fearless fighter” like “MAGA Mo” to the Senate, and saying America can't tolerate “any more cowering, wimpy Republicans.”
  • Brooks' campaign spokesman told Axios: "The 2020 presidential election was the most fraudulent in American history.  Congressman Mo Brooks believes ... that, if only lawful ballots cast by eligible American citizens were counted, Donald Trump won the 2020 election."

Shortly after Eastman entered the race, a new super PAC emerged to back her, dubbed Restore Common Sense USA.

  • It's spent more than $400,000 on her behalf since mid-December.
  • FEC filings show the group is linked to Fred Eshelman, a wealthy North Carolina pharmaceutical executive. He didn't respond to Axios' inquiries.
  • Eshelman previously gave $2 million to the conservative group True the Vote for its efforts to root out supposed 2020 voter fraud. He later sued the group to recoup the money, citing allegedly lackluster efforts.

Be smart: Widespread fraud in the 2020 election, while in reality nonexistent, has become an article of faith among the conservative grassroots.

  • In primary season, that means leaning into the lie can ingratiate a candidate with core GOP voters — and drive huge sums in small-dollar financial support.
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