Senate candidate Jim Lamon helped pay for Ariz. audit security, claims credit for 'pressuring' Fann to do audit

Jim Lamon, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, speaks during the Turning Point Action event at the Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix on July 24, 2021.
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez
Arizona Republic

Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Jim Lamon has emerged as a key behind-the-scenes player in the state Senate's long-running ballot review, from helping bankroll security to directing Ken Bennett to take a position as a spokesperson for the effort.

Lamon's involvement adds to an already lengthy list of conservative causes he has helped underwrite during his brief candidacy. 

The solar company executive has said he has paid for security during the ballot inspections and directed Bennett to pause the work he was doing with Lamon to recruit Republican voters so he could help with the partisan election review.

Lamon’s partial name appeared in a text message released this week by the Republican-controlled state Senate related to its review of the 2020 election, an exercise Lamon has supported even before it began in earnest earlier this year. 

On the campaign trail, as he met with GOP voters at pancake breakfasts and political meet-and-greets, Lamon has taken credit for helping inspire the ballot review. In one appearance, he said he “started pressuring” Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, to pursue the efforts when legal efforts by electors — including him — to overturn the election came up short. 

In a text exchange that began April 22 between Randy Pullen, an audit spokesperson, and Jeff DeWit, a political insider who worked for both of former President Donald Trump’s campaigns and chairs Lamon’s campaign, the two discussed fundraising. 

Pullen asked DeWit if he had an update on getting contributions to add “more security” at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the review of 2.1 million ballots was underway, “and for national legal team.” He directed DeWit to a 501(c)4 social welfare nonprofit named the Guardian Defense Fund that was created to help defend three Arizona Republicans defray expenses stemming from the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. 

"Guardian Defense Fund. A C(4). I am the Treasurer. So comes to me. If you need to wire let me know. Too late to wire. 200 would better but take what I can get." 

Pullen said Lamon did not make contributions to the Guardian fund. Instead, Pullen said, Lamon paid for three security guards to be stationed at the coliseum. It is unclear how the payments were made or to whom they were made.

On any given day, 15 to 18 security guards were hired to secure the facility, Pullen said. 

“He paid for, I think, three security guards to be there all the time — Jim paid that directly, I believe,” Pullen said. “It did not go through the Guardian Defense Fund.” 

Bennett said Lamon "was one of the earliest donors to offer to help pay for some of the security. Yes, he allowed me and encouraged me to transition from AZ51 over to doing the liaison thing," he said.

Pullen said that fund, which does not have to publicly disclose its donors, has so far raised amounts in six figures to help defend U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., state Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and former state Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale.

“Not that much money came through the Guardian Defense Fund — about $100,000. It wasn’t a whole lot of money," Pullen said.

After a text exchange about an urgent need for more security, Pullen wrote to DeWit on April 23 about a conversation Lamon reportedly had with Bennett. 

"You should have the ask," Pullen wrote. "Let me know if ok."

Pullen responded, "Jim told Ken. He would do 600k if RNC does 200k. Go along way to covering all the other costs." 

Pullen said this week the Republican National Committee did not contribute to the cause.

“Maybe there were some discussions but there was never any money” given, he said.

Keith Schipper, an NRC spokesperson, confirmed to The Arizona Republic on Thursday the committee did not contribute money for the audit.

Neither Lamon nor a spokesperson for his campaign responded to The Republic's questions about his financial support of the audit, although he has referenced at campaign events his financing of security. 

Read the texts: Text exchange that began April 22 between Randy Pullen, Jeff DeWit

Lamon, Bennett have ties to voter registration project

Separately, Lamon and Bennett, the former secretary of state who has served as audit liaison to the state Senate and spokesperson for the audit, have worked together on another front: registering voters ahead of the 2022 midterm election cycle. 

Lamon had been helping pay for the Arizona 51 Voter Project, an effort advertised on its website as a state party project to add 250,000 new GOP voters ahead of November 2022, when the state elects a U.S. senator, governor and other statewide officers. 

The voter project website urges supporters to volunteer, sending them to Look Ahead America, a national nonprofit created by Trump campaign veteran Matthew Braynard, who touts its team’s field organizing, data and digital analytics, and “psychographics and messaging” as key to its success. 

Bennett told The Republic on Thursday the Arizona 51 effort "closed down now, pretty much" and transitioned in Arizona into the Look Ahead America effort. 

Look Ahead America described the Lamon-funded program as one that would have a budget of $2 million "and will register, educate, and turn out to vote disaffected, patriotic Americans of rural and blue-collar backgrounds."

Bennett said he is still aiding the effort and is being paid for his work. He said Braynard is spearheading the voter-registration efforts in Arizona.

"I still consult with Matt, on, you know, who does he need to talk to around the state and help with the efforts of Look Ahead Arizona and voter registration," Bennett said. He said the program and its affiliates are not connected to the audit.

Before the audit began, Braynard had been retained in Arizona for a flat fee of $40,000 for expert analysis of the state’s 2020 election, according to a witness report filed with the Maricopa County Superior Court as part of a lawsuit aiming to vacate the presidential election. It was later voluntarily dismissed. 

Braynard concluded, in part, that thousands of people who were not eligible to vote did so and has continued to press the unfounded notion of a stolen election.

Braynard's name is partially mentioned in an April 6 text message that was released this week, involving Bennett, Lamon and Julie Fisher. Bennett said Fisher was the deputy state director for AZ51 who has worked as a sort of deputy liaison on the ballot review with Bennett.

In the message, Fisher warns Bennett against telling someone identified as "Matt" information that isn't suited for public disclosure. Bennett confirmed it was a reference to Braynard.

"I had a thought because Matt asks me a lot of questions that I feel are outside the realm of his concern," Fisher wrote to Bennett. She notes he gets "a lot of TV time with Steve Bannon etc. and he may be taking private information and blasting it on the public media."

Bennett responded, "Thanks. Hadn't even thought of that."

Read the texts: Text exchange that began April 6 among Ken Bennett, Julie Fisher and Jim Lamon

Bannon was Trump's chief strategist in the White House and was Trump's campaign CEO in 2016.

Before his work with the audit, Bennett had been working as director of the AZ51 project, where he met Lamon.

"I met him when he called to ask if I would help on the AZ51," Bennett said. "I've known him for five months and we've become friends and I support his efforts to help register more Republicans in Arizona." 

Bennett told The Republic in June he had taken a break from AZ51 to work on the ballot review instead.

Lamon said as much during an Aug. 28 campaign event in Taylor at a “Save the Nation” breakfast event featuring a “Rap Hoedown & Festival.” 

When post-election lawsuits to fight the election results "didn't work, we started pressuring Karen to — Fann — to do the audit,” Lamon told voters. “And Karen said, 'We'll do it.' And then Ken Bennett, who's on my state director team — he's a good statesman himself, businessman down in Prescott — we loaned him to go to the audit team. 

“And then Ken goes, 'We need some security.' So, me and some other business guys stepped up, so we've been paying for that. The point is, that I could spend money on hanging out at the beach or something ... if the country's at stake, we've got to spend on the right things. So, the other thing in addition to spending on helping to pay for the audit is my company has sponsored the largest private voter registration effort in the country.”

Questions about voter canvassing efforts

Among the text messages related to the ballot review that were released by the state Senate this week is an exchange dated June 27 that Lamon had with Bennett in which Bennett relates information about a canvassing operation.

After Lamon thanks Bennett for sending him talking points about the review ahead of an interview, he asks Bennett, "Has canvassing started?" 

Bennett replies, "Yes, a lot done between election and start of audit. Not happening currently."

The conversation may be connected to a controversial voter canvass that Fann canceled after the U.S. Justice Department noted its concerns that it might constitute voter intimidation.

Bennett has publicly said there were no official canvassing efforts related to the audit since Fann suspended them three months ago.

Bennett told The Republic on Thursday that, to his knowledge, neither voter-registration effort has been connected to the canvassing efforts

Lamon has touted his close connections to Bennett on the campaign trail. 

At a July 12 meeting with the Arizona Republican Assembly in Casa Grande, Lamon told those gathered he worked directly with Fann to help Bennett get the unpaid position as audit liaison. 

He said Fann told him, “We need him.”

Lamon praised Bennett’s work and said he got to see it firsthand. “I’ve been down there. I’ve been with him, because — you know, they don’t have enough money. And so, as, as citizens of the state, we need to raise more money for security for those great people that were counting the ballots back when they were … It is an audit for the records. Ken is doing a magnificent job.”

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Apart from the audit, Lamon and his company have been unusually politically active this cycle. 

In the Republican Senate primary, Lamon reported raising $2.2 million, and $2 million of that came from what he loaned his campaign, records from July showed. Another $39,000 came from people employed by Lamon's DEPCOM Power.

That doesn’t include the money Lamon gave in April to Look Ahead America, the nonprofit that announced a $2 million budget for its voter registration efforts thanks to what the group called “a generous contribution” from Lamon. 

He has also given money to the state Republican Party, local GOP clubs, and candidates.

Separately, DEPCOM Power also has given the Arizona Republican Party $395,000 so far this year.

Lamon hopes to win the Republican primary to take on Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., in the 2022 general election.

Arizona Republic reporter Ronald J. Hansen contributed to this report.

Have news to share about Arizona politics? Reach the reporter on Twitter and Facebook. Contact her at yvonne.wingett@arizonarepublic.com and 602-444-4712.

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