December 2, 2022

Turning Point Action Events Under Investigation for Election Law Violations

The Arizona Secretary of State’s office has opened an initial investigation into whether rallies organized by Turning Point Action, a tax-exempt organization led by conservative personality Charlie Kirk, violated campaign finance laws. .

Although the Turning Point Action official described the two rallies, held on Saturdays in July at Goodyear and Mesa parks, as community events intended to educate, the complaint suggests they were designed to promote specific Republican candidates during primary elections in August.

The complaint, delivered Monday to The Republic, was filed by Tyler Montague, a Republican political consultant who leads a group called Public Integrity Alliance.

His initial complaint, filed June 23, mentioned a July 9 Goodyear rally whose online promotion featured Austin Smith, a Turning Point Action employee who was also seeking a seat in State House. “This appears to be a possible illegal collaboration between (Turning Point) and Smith,” the complaint states.

Montague filed an additional lawsuit on July 25 regarding an event held Saturday in Mesa that featured David Farnsworth, who was running for a seat in the state Senate.

“…Turning Point Action is literally announcing that they are doing a joint door-to-door activity WITH a candidate they support in that candidate’s district,” read the email Montague sent to the office. of the Secretary of State.

The email included a screenshot of a social media flyer that featured a photo of Farnsworth, who was running against Rusty Bowers, the incumbent House Speaker who is looking to cross the chambers.

If the secretary of state’s office finds merit in its initial investigation, it may refer the case to the Arizona attorney general’s office.

Penalties for violating election laws are civil, with penalties based on the dollar amount involved. In this case, the value would include the cost of reserving spaces at Goodyear and Mesa public parks, the cost of any banners or signage, and the value of social media promotion. If the conduct was found to be flagrant, the penalties could be tripled.

Kirk, who was at both events, declined to discuss Turning Point’s involvement in the Arizona election.

Turning Point Action has created this flyer to encourage participation in a rally on July 30, 2022 in Mesa.

The Mesa event held on Saturday had speakers including Arizona Republican Party Leader Kelli Ward telling attendees to vote for Farnsworth and oust Bowers. The volunteers were then given a list of addresses to visit and put up door hangers promoting Farnsworth and denouncing Bowers.

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While the rally was sponsored by Turning Point Action, the social welfare group, campaign materials were paid for by Turning Point PAC, a political advocacy group established in May.

Volunteers who visited all of their assigned addresses were treated to a free Mexican lunch. It was unclear which entity paid the lunch bill.

“We’re going to retire Rusty Bowers,” said Smith, who served as emcee for Saturday’s event. “That’s why we are here today.”

Bowers gained national exposure for his testimony before the congressional committee investigating the root causes of the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 about the pressure put on him by President Donald Trump to somehow invalidate on the other the results of the 2020 election in Arizona. But those actions have also earned him the ire of Trump-supporting Republicans in his district.

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The Goodyear and Mesa rallies were part of Turning Point Action’s “Super Saturday” events in Arizona and five other states. Similar rallies are planned, according to the group’s website, until Election Day.

Tyler Bowyer, the head of Turning Point Action, told The Republic after Saturday’s event in Mesa that it was an “education-related” social gathering, although he said organizations like his were allowed to do political work if they wanted to.

Turning Point Action is a type of nonprofit entity known as 501(c)(4), after the section of the IRS code that defines the rules. These entities, under the code, are meant to benefit overall social welfare.

Entities can do political work, especially lobbying for legislation, as long as it is related to its founding mission. They may also, as directed by the IRS, advocate applicants based on the groups’ stated organizing principles.

The organizing principles of Turning Point Action, according to its tax forms, are to “raise awareness of free markets and capitalism,” initiate “civic action” among young people, and serve as a resource for “free market thinkers.”

Saturday’s speeches included no mention of the free market. They were heavy with patriotism and grievances against a perceived ruling class.

Bowyer told the crowd on Saturday to “spread the word in support of the America First conservatives.”

Ward told the crowd that they were engaged in a “spiritual battle” which was fighting “totalitarianism against freedom”.

“The right to free speech is under attack here,” Ward said. “There is no freedom if you are unable to think or speak… what you believe.”

Turning Point Actions COO Tyler Bowyer (right) argues with Arizona Republic photographer Antranik Tavitian (left) and Magnum photographer Peter Van Agtmael over the media's right to document a rally hosted by Turning Point Action in Mesa on July 30, 2022.

The Republic covered Saturday’s event in Mesa remotely because organizers said it was closed to the press. The Goodyear event, a spokesperson told The Republic, was also closed to the press.

The Arizona secretary of state’s office sent letters on July 21 to Smith’s campaign managers as well as the Turning Point PAC, requesting a response.

No correspondence has been sent to Turning Point Action, the entity mentioned by Montague in his original complaint.

On July 29, the bureau sent a second letter to Turning Point PAC regarding the Mesa event. He also sent letters to the contestants featured on the event’s promotional material: Farnsworth, Mary Ann Mendoza and Barbara Parker.

Farnsworth told The Republic after Saturday’s event that he didn’t help plan it. The Mendoza and Parker campaigns did not respond to an email request from The Republic seeking comment.

Each letter from the Secretary of State requests a response to Montague’s allegation that the candidates coordinated with Turning Point PAC.

The letter to Smith incorrectly described him as an employee of Turning Point PAC, a political action committee established in May. Smith works for the social organization Turning Point Action.

Turning Point PAC, according to Bowyer, has no employees.

Its organizational statement filed with the Federal Election Commission lists its address as the same building in Phoenix that houses Turning Point Action. In that same statement, the PAC said it was not related to any other organization.

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In documents filed with the Arizona secretary of state, Turning Point PAC listed a chairperson, Melodie Johnson. The PAC did not respond to a request for comment from La République.

Turning Point USA spokesman Andrew Kolvet said Bowyer was in charge of Turning Point Action and the political action committee. “Tyler leads both,” Kolvet said in a phone call Sunday. Kolvet then clarified that Bowyer could only consult with the PAC, but he wasn’t sure.

Neither Kolvet nor Bowyer answered follow-up questions to clarify the relationship.

After the Mesa event on Saturday, Farnsworth said he was made aware of the complaint filed with the Arizona secretary of state’s office. He said he had consulted with a lawyer to make sure he was okay with him giving a speech at the rally.

Farnsworth said he did not plan the event. He had been invited a few weeks before, he said.

He admitted he didn’t know the rally location, Red Mountain Park east of Mesa, although that was in the district he hoped to lead. The area has been redrawn in his district with the latest district map, he said.

Farnsworth said the event would provide an advantage to his campaign, even on the weekend before voting ends.

“I think so,” he said. “There are a lot of undecided voters and, of course, a lot of people who aren’t paying attention until Election Day.”