Thursday, March 23, 2023
March 23, 2023

Linkedin Pinterest

Vicki Kraft among legislators that used taxpayer money to attend Lindell’s election conference


This summer, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell convened a three-day “Cyber Symposium” in South Dakota, promising to provide “irrefutable” evidence the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump by hackers.

The three-day, livestreamed event, rife with debunked conspiracy theories, produced no such proof and ended in embarrassing fashion when even some of Lindell’s own invited experts said hacking data he’d touted was nonsensical.

On hand at the symposium in Sioux Falls were dozens of state legislators from around the country, who have parroted Trump and Lindell’s false fraud narrative, demanding audits of the long-settled election.

Among them were three Republicans from Washington, whose trips to the Lindell event were paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Public records released to The Seattle Times last week show state Reps. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, and Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, requested and received expense reimbursements from the Legislature for the symposium. In all, the state paid $4,361 for their hotels and flights.

Kraft announced in December that she is running for the 3rd District congressional seat currently held by Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler.

All three lawmakers have stoked doubts about the 2020 election, claiming widespread fraud and irregularities around the nation and in Washington — even as they touted their own reelection wins last fall. Kraft and Klippert are running for Congress in 2022.

They are also among 186 state legislators nationally who have signed on to a letter by Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers calling for “forensic audits” in all 50 states, and to potentially decertify election results.

The use of public dollars — albeit a relatively small sum — to subsidize lawmakers’ travel to Lindell’s conspiracy fest was slammed by the head of a national nonprofit that has combated false election claims.

“The Mike Lindell symposium was on its face a conspiracy theory designed to undermine faith in American democracy. It should not have been funded in any way by taxpayer dollars, and no one in public office should have been attending it,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, a liberal-leaning group that has filed lawsuits and public records requests to document ongoing efforts by Trump loyalists to sow doubts about the 2020 election results.

Lindell has emerged as a leading purveyor of outlandishly false tales about the election — repeatedly claiming Trump would be reinstated as president last year — and says he has spent $25 million on his efforts.

In emails last week, Kraft and Sutherland defended their attendance at the pillow magnate’s symposium, saying they’ll use information gleaned there to develop election-related legislation they’ll introduce in the upcoming legislative session.

Sutherland said voters in his legislative district were “very suspicious” of the 2020 election results “and for good reason …”

“My constituents were demanding that I and others do something about it. Thus I set out on a journey to learn all I could about our election system(s), especially in WA state and in Snohomish County, in order to see if their concerns were legitimate.”

Sutherland has long denied the election results, telling his Facebook followers in December 2020 to “prepare for war” and suggesting the election was “a coup” that could start a second U.S. Civil War.

Sutherland also visited the election audit in Maricopa County, Arizona, this summer on his own dime, he said. (That widely criticized exercise by a private firm called Cyber Ninjas ended without finding evidence of a stolen election, and validated President Joe Biden’s win in the state’s most populous county.)

Sutherland later invited some people involved in the Arizona audit and the Lindell symposium to a public hearing at a Snohomish church in August, where they repeated claims that millions of votes had been flipped, including in Washington.

Kraft said she went to the South Dakota event “to learn more about what a full forensic audit process looks like, how hackers could hack into an election system and to meet other legislators working on this issue. The conference helped me accomplish these objectives.”

While at the conference, Kraft spoke on stage, calling the Lindell event “very important” and decrying Washington’s vote-by-mail system and vaccine mandates. She also tweeted a photo of herself with Steve Bannon, the former Trump chief political strategist who has been indicted on a charge of refusing to cooperate with a congressional probe into the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol — an event sparked by Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election.

On Jan. 6, Kraft supported Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign to block congressional certification of the election, writing on Facebook that “as a lawmaker you would have to question and reject the results and the electoral votes being counted today.”

Klippert, who did not respond to a request for comment, sponsored several bills during the 2020 legislative session seeking to change the state’s election system, including a proposal to scrap mail-in ballots and return to in-person voting with photo identification.

State House Chief Clerk Bernard Dean said state lawmakers have fairly broad latitude to be reimbursed for travel to events connected to their legislative work. Each member has a $9,000 annual allotment for such travel.

Generally, Dean said, the House administration does not judge the appropriateness of lawmaker travel decisions, so long as they can make a case for the “nexus” to their official duties.

In some cases, the nexus is obvious — such as when lawmakers attend events by the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, Dean said. In other cases, lawmakers are asked to provide a justification.

Email records show the legislators made such a case for the Lindell event, with Kraft telling House administrators she wanted to attend “to better understand how and what processes were broken in our elections across the nation last year.”

Such explanations sufficed and the travel was approved.

State House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox said Dean’s office asked him “in a general way” about the symposium request and that he responded that the office should ask the lawmakers to provide justifications for the travel.

Asked whether he thought the attendance by his caucus members at the event was appropriate, Wilcox responded: “I didn’t pay any attention to the conference and I’m sure that there are conferences attended by all sides that seem useless to many, but I’m not in favor of applying a political litmus test to them. Seems like that judgment is up to the voters.”

Biden won the 2020 election with 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232 and drew 7 million more votes nationally, according to results officially certified in all 50 states.

Trump and election deniers such as Lindell have refused to accept the outcome, and nearly a year later have continued to claim the result was not legitimate.

Their lies could bring legal consequences. Dominion Voting Systems has filed a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against Lindell, saying his false statements that the company’s voting machines were rigged have badly damaged the company’s reputation. The company also sued former Trump attorneys Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell over similar claims.

A federal judge in August denied their requests to dismiss the case, writing that Lindell’s claims of “a vast international conspiracy that is ignored by the government but proven by a spreadsheet on an internet blog is so inherently improbable that only a reckless man would believe it.”

Denial of the 2020 election results has become a litmus test for many Republican candidates around the country, though top Republicans in Washington, including Wilcox and state GOP Chairman Caleb Heimlich, have generally defended the accuracy of vote counts here.

Evers said he’s astonished that even after the Lindell symposium’s embarrassing collapse, some elected officials continue to echo its claims while seeking higher office. “Evidence that people who aspire to public power view the Big Lie as their ticket is an insidious development,” he said.

Kraft and Klippert are among several pro-Trump congressional candidates running in the 2022 midterms in Washington. Both are challenging Republican incumbents who broke with most of their party and voted to impeach Trump over his conduct in the Jan. 6 Capitol assault, when he refused for hours to take action to protect the Congress from rioters fired up by his election falsehoods.

Klippert is challenging Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, in the 4th Congressional District of Central Washington.

It appears Klippert and his supporters viewed attendance at the Lindell symposium as politically beneficial, according to messages obtained through a records request and posted online by American Oversight.

In one text message in August, a Klippert campaign volunteer asked him to confirm his attendance so they could “blast it out” on social media.

Klippert also texted another congressional candidate on Aug. 12, saying he was at the symposium.

“Wish you were here! Would in many ways have given you a leg up on your opponent!” he wrote.