Organizers of a recall effort against state Rep. Mark Finchem ended three weeks before the deadline.
Rural Arizonans for Accountability announced they would throw in the towel on Tuesday, June 15.
Finchem said he expected the effort to fail.
"For an effort that was rooted in baseless fraudulent claims, and defamatory accusations, I am not surprised that the effort failed," said Finchem via email.
Recall organizers had told Tucson Local Media last month that they believed they would be able to reach their goal of 24,775 signatures by the July 8 deadline.
But the group told supporters in an email last week that they didn't think they could make the goal.
"After analyzing the number of signatures we still need, the shrinking number of days left until our deadline, and our current finances, we made the difficult decision to stop collecting signatures," the email said.
"The vast majority of constituents in Legislative District 11 are very intelligent and they can spot a scam, which they ultimately did here," Finchem said.
Tony Cani, a representative for the recall effort, said in total the campaign cost around $450,000. A campaign finance report through the end of March 2021 shows Rural Arizonans for Accountability received about $100,000 each from Movement Voter Pac and Rural Arizona Action, as well as $100,000 from individual contributions. A new finance report is expected to be released next month.
"It was a math problem, which is: should we continue to invest additional resources when it's a real long shot or should we be realistic about where we are, and move on to the next phase, to a different phase of work, holding these elected officials accountable?" Cani said. "Being realistic about the fact that it was an extremely long shot to collect the rest of those signatures." In a recall effort, Cani said they would want a "sizeable buffer" to ensure that they would have enough qualifying signatures, because if they got the exact 24,775 signatures, some would have likely been disqualified for things like writing outside the margins or signatures from people who lived outside of the district.
In 2011, Citizens for a Better Arizona submitted around 18,000 signatures to force a recall election against then-State Senate president Russell Pearce, who was defeated in the subsequent recall election. The recall effort only needed 7,756 valid signatures to force a recall election.
"Rural Arizonans for Accountability knew that this was an uphill battle," Cani said. But he added that the group felt it was worth pursuing because often lawmakers who are elected in safe districts where they don't face serious competition in the general election "kind of get a pass." While Cani said Rural Arizonans for Accountability as well as supporters believe the campaign has succeeded in bringing to light "bad faith actions of Finchem."
The campaign called for a recall due to Finchem's continued claims of voter fraud in Arizona and his ties to the "Stop the Steal" rioters at the Jan. 6 insurrection, and criticized Finchem's campaign to run for Arizona Secretary of State.
Last month, Finchem's attorney had sent a cease-and-desist letter to Rural Arizonans for Accountability demanding they "retract all false and defamatory allegations contained in materials that you have published in support of your campaign to recall Rep. Finchem."
Cani said the letter had nothing to do with their decision to end the campaign and spurred on their volunteers and recruitment.
But Finchem said the letter was meant "to put the organizers and their lawyers on notice that they engaged in a serious fallacious and defamatory action that I intend to pursue in order to recover damages and other relief for the harm that they knowingly caused as a result of their baseless acquisitions."
Asked whether he thought his letter had caused a backlash to the recall effort, Finchem said the group had "ample time to collect signatures and they paid a lot of money to out-of-town recruits who openly told constituents that they were BLM surrogates. I think the constituents of LD-11 know a fraud when they see one."
While the recall fizzled out, Finchem had faced greater scrutiny in the media, including stories on national news stations. But Finchem said the effort had not hindered his upcoming campaign for Arizona Secretary of State because of his "solid reputation for standing up for what is right."
In visiting voters from Ft. Mohave to Tucson and Sierra Vista over the last 60 days, Finchem said "the overwhelming message from everyone regardless of political party registration is this: They want to be assured that elections are fraud free, are conducted with full-spectrum transparency and they retain their right to scrutinize every aspect of our elections."
Finchem said he was focused on a recent special session to pass $100 million in funding to combat and recover from wildfires, which passed on Thursday, June 17, and passing a budget, expressing concern over "the federal government 'juicing' our economy with fiat currency."
Alongside those efforts, Finchem continues to be concerned about the ongoing "forensic audit" of Maricopa County's 2020 ballots. In campaigning for Secretary of State, Finchem made a video in support of the Arizona Ballot Integrity Project, which proposes making ballot images a public record, including a watermark and microprinting seen under UV light, a QR code to track one's ballot and a ballot hologram. He believes this plan, "if implemented properly, will make forensic audits less likely."
Since the outcome of the presidential election, Finchem has voiced his belief that the election was stolen and has acted on this belief by supporting the Maricopa County audit that is drawing to a close. The audit has been widely questioned, as the main contractor for the effort, Cyber Ninjas, has no experience in carrying out an audit and company representatives have been tight-lipped on the details on how they are conducting it.
This week, Finchem spoke with Ann Vandersteel, a supporter of various QAnon theories, on her online talk show, Steel the Truth, about the Maricopa audit. On Twitter last Friday, Finchem dismissed Attorney General Merrick Garland's announcement that the Department of Justice would scrutinize any post-election audits to "ensure they abide by federal statutory requirements, to protect election records and avoid the intimidation of voters," calling it a "clown show."
"Nothing short of amazing! The Attorney General of the United States issued a not so veiled threat to States, who have jurisdiction over elections which he does not, engaged in validation of an election. Audits designed to prove or disprove election fraud," Finchem wrote. "Where was the DOJ when states produced proof of extinguished voting rights through legitimate ballot nullification? Where was the DOJ when we reported foreign electronic intervention, again with proof?"
While the audit has been criticized by Democratic lawmakers as well as the GOP-led Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, who had already audited the election, Finchem said it was worth pursuing.
"I think the criticizers are misinformed," Finchem said. "I would add, that there are very few legislators who are developing election integrity and security policy that will restore voter confidence, which has been damaged by those who have pushed the false narrative that this is the, "most safe and secure election in history," when clear and convincing evidence has been presented to the contrary. The effort is important to either prove or disprove government claims that the election is the, "most safe and secure election in history," especially after so many senators and congressmen expressed serious concerns that our systems were open to hacking."
Finchem said he was standing by his record.
"I have served my community with honor and integrity," Finchem said "While some may disagree with some of my votes, our state has done well on my watch."