How a former Trump lawyer is helping election deniers oversee elections
One of former President Donald Trump’s White House lawyers is aiding a coalition of candidates who embrace Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election and are seeking to take control of election administration across the country. Stefan Passantino, who served as Trump’s top ethics lawyer, is the “designated agent” of the political action committee of SOS for America Candidate Coalition, a group that supports pro-Trump candidates running for secretary of state.
Passantino’s connection to the group provides a link between Trump’s political operation and the slate of candidates who want to administer future elections while denying the results of the 2020 election. His ties to the former president did not end when he left the White House in 2018. Not only did he subsequently work for the Trump Organization, but the firm he co-founded, Elections LLC, has received more than $1.6 million this year from Trump’s political committees. Passantino’s ties to the group underscores the connections between the former president and ongoing efforts to subvert democracy.
SOS4America PAC is supporting candidates who peddled conspiracy theories about the 2020 election being fraudulent and backed Trump’s plot to overturn an election he lost. The Coalition’s mission is to establish “conservative America First election reforms,” and promotes the elimination of mail-in ballots, the implementation of single day voting and voter ID requirements — policy changes that experts argue disproportionately suppress the vote of marginalized groups. The group’s website also hints at support for subverting electoral results they don’t accept as legitimate, claiming that one of its goals is to “Counter and Reverse electoral fraud.”
The group’s president and Nevada GOP secretary of state nominee Jim Marchant reportedly said that individuals close to Trump urged him to form the coalition. As head of the coalition, the former state assemblyman, who vowed not to certify the result of the 2020 presidential election if he were in office, has taken on the role of installing Trump-supporting candidates in positions that will allow them to tilt future elections in their favor. Marchant lost a congressional race in 2020, which he falsely claimed was due to election fraud.
The coalition includes candidates who have made election denial a key part of their campaigns including Mark Finchem in Arizona, Rep. Jody Hice in Georgia, Kristina Karamo in Michigan and Tina Peters in Colorado. Finchem, who recently secured the Republican secretary of state nomination in Arizona, attended the Jan. 6 Stop the Steal rally and has described himself as a member of the Oath Keepers militia. Peters was indicted with committing identity theft and criminal impersonation this year for tampering with voting equipment. Doug Mastriano, who is running for governor in Pennsylvania, is also a member of the coalition. If elected, he would be responsible for appointing the secretary of state and could use his position to overturn the results of a future presidential election.
SOS4America PAC also has ties to one of Trump’s most aggressive election denying supporters in Congress: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. The PAC’s treasurer, Jason D. Boles, helped her set up her campaign and also is listed as the chief financial officer and secretary of her leadership PAC, Save America Stop Socialism. He has also found himself embroiled in an election-related controversy for helping bankroll an effort to discredit voting rights groups in North Carolina.
Despite the talk on its website of supporting “like-minded America First Republican SOS candidates across the country,” SOS4America PAC hasn’t actually done much so far, raising just under $9,000 in its first month of existence and spending $345. At least one donation, however, appears to be missing from the report. A Nevada-based state PAC called Conservatives for Election Integrity reported giving SOS4America PAC $20,000 on June 3 — the same day SOS4America PAC registered with the FEC — but the contribution is not included in SOS4America PAC’s July Quarterly report, which covers April 1, 2022 to June 30, 2022.
Conservatives for Election Integrity PAC has close ties to SOS4America PAC. It was formed by Marchant and is affiliated with the America First Secretary of State Coalition, which has a website that is almost identical to SOS for America Candidate Coalition’s. Conservatives for Election Integrity PAC also supports pro-Trump candidates running for secretary of state who are trying to “fix 2020 like President Trump said.” MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell is also involved in the coalition and attended the group’s very first meeting.
Since its formation in May 2021, Conservatives for Election Integrity PAC has reported raising $347,022 overall. Former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne’s America Project, a nonprofit, is one of the major donors to Conservatives for Election Integrity, giving more than $155,000. Byrne is well-known for spreading falsehoods about the 2020 election being stolen. He attended a now-infamous meeting at the White House in which he and others pushed Trump to use the military in his quest to stay in power. He also attended the first meeting of the America First SOS Coalition. The America Project, which helped fund the partisan election audit in Arizona’s Maricopa County, also contributed $100,000 to a Colorado super PAC called Citizens for Election Integrity that supported Peters’ unsuccessful campaign for Colorado secretary of state.
Outside of Byrne, other major donors to Conservatives for Election Integrity include two companies that appear to have never made any major contributions at the state or federal level, according to a review of campaign finance records by CREW. MDB Realty, a worldwide real estate development firm, donated $100,000. The company’s chairman and chief executive officer, Matthew Brimhall, previously served as the corporate officer for The Residences at The Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas. A marketing company focused on credit and travel called Tradebloc also donated $35,000. Tradebloc, which is based in Dallas, Texas, also donated $8,000 to Marchant’s campaign.
Most of Conservatives for Election Integrity’s spending, almost $170,000, has gone to McShane LLC, a political consulting firm that gained notoriety when its vice president helped recruit Proud Boys to attend a post-presidential election protest. At least some of the payments have paid for advertising to promote Marchant’s candidacy and boost his message. Conservatives for Election Integrity also contributed $10,000 to Marchant’s campaign in March 2022.
As the general election nears, SOS4America and Conservatives for Election Integrity can be expected to raise and spend more money to back Marchant and other election denying candidates in his coalition seeking positions that allow them to subvert future elections. The fact that a lawyer like Passantino with close Trump ties is aiding their efforts underscores how the former president and his allies’ work to undermine American democracy did not end on January 6, 2021.