ARIZONA

A/C units, rent-a-cops and legal fees: Taxpayers pick up $425,000 in audit costs, with more coming

Mary Jo Pitzl
Arizona Republic

Taxpayers have footed nearly $425,000 for the costs of the audit Senate Republicans are conducting, with thousands of dollars more in bills yet to come, state records show.

The largest expense is for $223,000 in legal fees paid through July, followed by $68,100 for security costs at the state fairgrounds in May.

Those security costs were contracted by the Guardian Defense Fund, a dark-money nonprofit started in February to "fight back" against allegations about the involvement of three Arizona Republican politicians in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

The treasurer of the defense fund is Randy Pullen, who is also a spokesperson for the Senate audit. Recently released text messages show Pullen has been seeking private donations to the fund to help with audit-related costs, including a May plea for "$200 to $225 thousand to pay for the security."

For subscribers:Arizona Senate releases texts, emails offering glimpse of audit, but thousands of documents remain withheld

Senate President Karen Fann said she decided to pick up a portion of the security costs after the Senate realized it could not conduct its ballot review in Maricopa County's secure ballot center, something it had not accounted for in its contract with Cyber Ninjas, the lead contractor. That agreement covered only 39 days, as that's how long the Cyber Ninjas expected to be doing work on-site. If its work exceeded that time, Fann said, the contractor was on its own.

Fann: County shares blame

Fann, who authorized the audit, acknowledged overall costs are climbing. But she said a lot of that is due to Maricopa County's refusal to cooperate with the audit of the 2020 election results, resulting in legal fees, unexpected security costs and rental charges.

Jack Sellers, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, told Fann in early April that the county would not partner with the Senate in its planned audit, saying it could expose the county to liability for which it would have no protection.

Sellers cited the two bipartisan audits the county had performed as required by law, as well as two additional forensic examinations of the tabulation machines, and noted no irregularities or evidence of fraud was found. 

As for the county's ballot center, the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center was unavailable because the county had local elections to conduct in March and May and the Cyber Ninjas' audit would get in the way.

Fann said she had hoped the county would be cooperative and did not anticipate the Senate would have to find its own premises.

"It was a heck of a lot more money than we anticipated," Fann, R-Prescott, said Friday. "Somebody needs to pay for this."

She hinted that the Senate might try to recoup some costs from Maricopa County. "We might very well do that," she said. "When it's all said and done, we'll see."

The audit is in its fifth month, and the Senate's attorney said earlier this week that a final report could be out by mid-September. However, as of Friday, Fann said no draft report has been delivered to the Senate.

The draft, expected in late August, was delayed as three members of the Cyber Ninjas contracted COVID-19.

Costs have far exceeded the $150,000 the Senate agreed to pay the Ninjas for its work. The Senate made a $50,000 down payment in April, with the rest due when the work is completed.

The Senate's costs are coming out of its taxpayer-funded $18 million budget. Private fundraising efforts, which as of July had reached $5.7 million, are covering the bulk of audit-related expenses. That appears to include security procured by the Guardian Defense Fund.

Unexpected security costs

The Senate's contribution to security costs was unanticipated, Fann said, because the Senate has assumed the Cyber Ninjas' ballot review could take place at the county's ballot center. 

When the county said that wasn't possible, the Senate scrambled to find a location — ultimately, the state fairgrounds — and realized security would be needed to protect the 2.1 million ballots.

Fann said she agreed to cover the security costs for the 39 days the Cyber Ninjas originally estimated they would need to conduct the review on-site. That amounted to $68,180.30, records showed.

Fann said if the Cyber Ninjas' fairgrounds work exceeded 39 days, "I said, 'That's on you guys. You'll have to raise the money yourself.'"

The money was paid to Law Enforcement Specialists Inc., which hires off-duty police. The officers were paid $60 an hour for 12-hour shifts at the state fairgrounds, where the Cyber Ninjas' contractors were hand-counting the ballots inside the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Security was provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

However, the bill was generated by the Guardian Defense Fund and Michael Droll, head of the Arizona Rangers. The Rangers provide support to Arizona law enforcement agencies, as well as security services for community and civic organizations, the organization's website states

The Rangers offered its services for a contribution of $20,000, saying it doesn't do contractual work.

A/C units for building with a swamp cooler

Legal fees paid to Statecraft PLLC cover the costs of the firm representing the Senate in various legal cases, including two ongoing lawsuits seeking release of records related to the audit.

Other expenses range from big ticket items, such as thousands paid to rent portable air-conditioning units, to $70 to hire a man to read Braille ballots. The Senate invested $290 in security tape to close up ballot boxes.

The audit of Maricopa County's ballots from the 2020 general election continues on July 24, 2021, in the Wesley Bolin Building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Ariz.

A bill for $11,025 covers the air-conditioning units that were used at the fairgrounds' Wesley Bolin Building in July. That building is equipped only with swamp coolers, which don't work well in the humidity of the monsoon.

The Senate has paid $50,000 in a down payment to the Ninjas, and $25,000 to EchoMail, a firm recently hired to examine the signatures on mail-in ballot envelopes.

The outstanding balance on those two contracts is $125,000, expected to be paid when the work is completed.

The meter is still running

Other pending expenses are a $128,074 bill due to the state Exposition and Fair Board for use of the fairgrounds for the audit. While the rent was waived between the two government entities, the fair board is charging for electricity costs, labor and janitorial services for the three months the audit was operating on its premises.

Another potential cost looms: The county has filed a notice of claim last month for $2.8 million to pay for new tabulation machines to replace those turned over to the Senate under subpoena. Elections officials feared the machines were compromised, and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said she would decertify them for security reasons.

"I don't like wasting taxpayer dollars," Fann said. "But this is part of our job as the Senate: writing laws." Before drafting laws, she said, research is needed, and she considers the audit part of that research.

Fann has maintained the audit is an attempt to determine which laws, if any, need to be changed to improve election integrity and answer constituents' concerns that the 2020 election was flawed.

While she has insisted the intent is not to overturn the certified results of the election, people across the nation have viewed the audit as their best chance to change the outcome of the presidential race.

Reach the reporter at maryjo.pitzl@arizonarepublic.com and follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl.

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