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Monday, March 4, 2024
March 4, 2024

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Westneat: Election denial brings in bucks


Election denialism got roughed up by reality last month.

Candidates fueled by election-theft conspiracies did so poorly in the midterms that there’s been some speculation — some hope — that the vote fraud mania campaign ginned up on the right might finally slink away.

But it hasn’t. It’s just migrated back to its natural habitat: the MAGA fundraising racket.

On the surface, it’s delusional that Republican candidate Joe Kent hasn’t yet accepted his election loss in Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, and has requested a recount.

He lost by 2,629 votes. That may sound close, but it’s far outside of any margin that has been made up by a recount in this state.

Kent would have to pay about $50,000 for election workers to recount ballots with machines across seven counties. So in a practical sense, a recount now is also a waste of time and money.

But practical sense and the right’s election doubt crusade have never crossed paths.

What the Kent recount is really about, I suspect, is Kent not wanting to lose cred with this Trump-MAGA ecosystem. It’s the same reason fellow Donald Trump endorsee Loren Culp pointlessly sued over his huge loss in the 2020 governor’s race. And why Trump’s former state campaign chairman, Don Benton, demanded a partial recount of his council race in Clark County, even though he lost by nearly 3 percentage points.

Fighting is MAGA. Accepting is RINO.

The MAGA way also happens to make a ton of money. It’s no coincidence that Kent last month established the “Joe Kent Recount Fund.” Because the election is over, he’s able to hit up all his supporters anew.

Earlier this fall, Bloomberg News studied social media patterns and found that election denialism sparked dramatically more positive engagement from supporters for GOP candidates than any other issue. So while it may be toxic with the mainstream, with the MAGA base it’s the coin of the realm.

In Kent’s case, he was so plugged into MAGA circuits that he took the somewhat rare step of forming a leadership PAC — before he’d ever been elected to any office. Leadership PACs traditionally are used by incumbent members of Congress whose own reelection is safe, and so they can seed money to other candidates around the country.

Kent’s PAC, called Keep Electing New Talent, had raised $130,000 through late October, the most recent federal reports available. He gave away about $38,000 of this, to 16 election-denier candidates (14 of whom lost). But his consultant, External Affairs, a company run by a former Trump campaign official, took nearly $70,000 in “PAC strategy consulting” fees, more than half the total.

Winning while losing like this is Trump’s great magic trick. Sustaining it, though, means keeping the fires of some controversy burning, even if it’s fake.

Trump has used this formula to hoover up money from Washingtonians. Remember how in the month-and-a-half following the 2020 election, he cadged $2.7 million out of this state’s residents by luring them to give to an “Election Defense Fund” that didn’t actually exist?

Well since then, Trump has flogged election conspiracies on an almost daily basis to raise an additional $2.2 million from donors here, federal records show.

This fundraising racket rains money on more than just MAGA world, by the way. One of the biggest beneficiaries of Trump’s Save America PAC operation has been a Seattle text messaging software company called Tatango. Since April 2021, Trump’s PAC has paid Tatango a whopping $15.6 million for text advertising of his fundraising pitches, federal records show.

You can see why the election-denial train keeps chugging. It has countless enablers. And countless more making bank.

So, sure, recount the votes. It won’t make a whit of difference in the outcome. But even proving the count was solid won’t snap many election doubters back to reality.

The only way to end this con? Stop giving the con artists money.