While Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer is coming under increased scrutiny for his founding and operation of a political action committee (PAC), the next required opportunity for the public’s visibility on his PAC’s activity is mid-January nearly two months after he sought to influence the November 8 general election.
According to the Arizona Secretary of State website regarding campaign finance reporting dates, filings for the post-general election period of October 23 to December 31, 2022, are not due until the earliest date of January 1 and not later than January 17, 2023.
The last report for Richer’s PAC, Pro-Democracy Republicans, was filed on October 27, covering the period from October 1 through October 22.
With the general election being held on November 8, it is unclear what funds Richer’s PAC raised or expended in the two weeks leading up to the general election. Early voting had been underway since October 12 and ran through November 4.
The most recent filing by Richer’s PAC covering the first three weeks in October showed no receipts but had expenditures of $3,727.50 to Connect Strategic, a Phoenix-based digital advertising and campaign strategy firm.
The filing before that, dated October 14 and covering July 17 to September 30, reported $1,725.84 covering nine separate expenditures.
More notably, there was a $10,000 contribution from Daryl Burton, who, according to Transparency USA, also gave $5,300 to Kari Lake’s Republican primary opponent Karrin Taylor Robson and $5,300 to Democrat candidate for governor Marco Lopez who was previously an official in Barack Obama’s Customs and Border Protection. Lopez lost the gubernatorial Democrat primary to Katie Hobbs.
In the pre-primary report covering July 1 to July 16, Richter’s PAC received $10,000 from Harvard Investments Inc. but spent $45,000 with Defending Arizona Values for professional services of polling/research at $25,000 and mailing services at $20,000.
Defending Arizona Values, however, is also a registered PAC in Arizona.
In addition to the $45,000 from Richer’s PAC, Defending Arizona PAC reportedly received the same period $7,650 in contributions from Independent Arizona.
Defending Arizona Values PAC, which registered with the state on March 25, in turn, looks to have combined the funding from Richer’s PAC and Independent Arizona in spending $52,631.73 with Consilium Consulting on mailings for “Galvin for Maricopa County,” “Terry for Arizona,” “Osborne for Arizona Senate” and “Conservatives for John,” as indicated in its only report with any activity filed with the Secretary of State.
Separately, Independent Arizona PAC produced a free “Arizona Election Report” dated fall 2022, billed as “Serving Arizona.”
Looking like an official bulletin regarding the upcoming general election, the report addressed “Dear Arizona voter” says that “Voting in Arizona is accessible, safe and secure” and gives information on how to get involved in the Maricopa County election process. It specifically mentions Stephen Richer as the elected Maricopa County Recorder, putting him in positive light in his work with the 14 other County Recorders in the state, “all of whom have stood by their county’s work in the 2020 election.”
The report often uses the word or variants of “we.” In the first sentence, the report states, “The vast majority of Arizonans vote by mail and we’ve made a lot of improvements over the years,” and in the last sentence of the first paragraph, “…and we send you a piece of mail to confirm your address.”
After giving more of what seems like official election information, the report warns those who question election integrity.
“Beware of politicians are rigged. They are often looking to raise money, get an endorsement, or play on your emotions, and they don’t care about the truth.”
The “report” goes on with seven questions to ask a politician the next time they say elections are rigged.
In Richer’s PAC dealings, there is a disconnect between the PAC’s report stating that its $25,000 was for polling/research and Defending Arizona Values’ report that the expenditures were on mailings. This discrepancy could be cleared by Richer’s PAC producing the actual mailings or poll results it contracted from Defending Arizona Values.
Another inconsistency in Richer’s PAC arises when he announced the formation of his Pro-Democracy Republicans PAC in November 2021.
Richer told the Arizona Mirror that his PAC had more than $100,000 in seed money, although he wouldn’t say where that money came from.
As the outlet noted, the information on Richer’s PAC receipts would have to be provided in its first campaign finance report, due about two months later.
However, that report shows the PAC took in a fraction of Richer’s stated amount at just $24,310 in receipts. Richer’s PAC, since its registration on July 28, 2021, took in a total of $88,442.50, according to what the PAC reported to the Secretary of State, and had expenses of $69,761.43, leaving a cash balance of $18,681.07.
In addition to the botched 2022 general election in Maricopa County, Richer’s founding of his partisan PAC raises ethical and legal questions of possible misconduct, The Arizona Sun Times reported.
As the Secretary of State’s website notes, the primary purpose of a PAC registered in Arizona is “influencing the result of an election” and knowingly receiving or expending funds in excess of the current threshold to do so.
Richer’s PAC states in no uncertain terms that its mission is to support “pro-democracy” Republicans who accept and acknowledge the fact that Republicans had a presidential candidate who lost and not “conspiracy theorists and demagoguery.”
Meanwhile, the elected official position Richer holds of Maricopa County Recorder is heavily involved in elections, in addition to its duties relative to the processing and preservation of important documents.
“The Recorder’s Office partners with the Maricopa County Elections department to plan and hold jurisdictional, county, state, and federal level elections for all eligible Maricopa County voters,” it states on the office website, in addition to being responsible for maintaining the voter files for the more than 2.5 million active registered voters in Maricopa County.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Star News Network, where she covers stories for The Arizona Sun Times and The Tennessee Star.
Photo “Stephen Richer” by Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.