It’s no secret that Anthony Kern, who is running for state Senate in Arizona, went to Washington for the infamous “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021. He even posted an image of his flight on Facebook.
But according to new campaign finance data, it appears that he also used campaign money to fund the trip.
Last week, Kern — a former GOP state representative who lost reelection in 2020 — submitted campaign finance data to the Arizona Board of Elections that raises additional questions about his conduct leading up to the U.S. Capitol riot.
The campaign finance disclosure form, which lists Kern’s expenditures and the contributions he received in 2021, shows that his campaign paid for three unusual travel and lodging-related expenses shortly before and after Jan. 6, 2021.
First, on Jan. 4, the day that Kern posted a photo of himself flying to Washington, his campaign paid him $980.96 for an expense described as “Travel – Lodging.”
The next day, Kern’s campaign paid him $478 for an “airline ticket.”
And on Jan. 11, Kern’s campaign paid Hyatt Hotels $436.74 for an expense that Kern described as “Travel – Lodging.” The Hyatt Hotels address is listed on the disclosure form as “MANHATTON, NEW YORK, AZ 11111,” which does not exist.
The first two expenses are unusual because, in many other instances where Kern’s campaign paid for the services or products of a particular business, it paid the business directly. In this case, Kern paid and then had the campaign reimburse him. By paying on his own, Kern can avoid revealing which airline he used or which hotel he stayed at.
Since “Manhatton, New York, Arizona” is nonsensical, it’s unclear which Hyatt Hotels location Kern stayed at.
It’s possible, however, that Kern’s errant disclosure was meant to conceal that he used the money to stay at a Hyatt location in Washington, D.C., for the “Stop the Steal” rally. A number of supporters of then-President Donald Trump stayed at the Grand Hyatt Washington in the city’s downtown area on Jan. 6 and allegedly harassed a reporter in the lobby.
HuffPost repeatedly reached out to Kern’s campaign to clarify the expenses, but no one replied.
Kern, who stands by the baseless idea that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, denies entering the Capitol and has never been charged with a crime. He also endorsed prosecuting any “Stop the Steal” rally-goers who subsequently broke the law by storming the Capitol and engaging in acts of violence. However, video footage of the riot shows Kern standing near a part of the Capitol where rioters streamed in, the Arizona Mirror reported in May.
Campaign finance laws vary by state, but they generally grant candidates and elected officials significant latitude in how broadly to define political activities eligible for campaign funds. And even if authorities do believe Kern violated the law, they would still be unlikely to pursue charges over such a small sum.
Democrats have nonetheless seized on instances like these to highlight Republican candidates’ ties to Trump, whose unpopularity fueled Democratic gains in many suburban communities.
Gabrielle Chew, a spokesperson for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, called for Republican leaders in Arizona to condemn Kern’s continued “anti-democratic actions.”
Kern has “continuously pushed the ‘Big Lie,’ participated in the sham election review in Maricopa County that cost taxpayers millions of dollars, and grifted donors into paying for his travel costs to join an attack on our country,” Chew said in a statement. “All of this is utterly disqualifying to run for the Arizona Senate.”
Kern, a former police officer, is now running in Arizona’s 20th state Senate District. His candidacy began as a primary challenge against state Sen. Paul Boyer (R), a moderate who opposed aspects of the GOP state legislature’s audit of the 2020 election results.
But Boyer announced in November that he would not seek reelection, clearing a path for Kern to run in an open seat. Days later, Trump endorsed Kern’s candidacy.
There is not yet a Democratic candidate running against Kern. Democrats are exploring the possibility but are waiting for new district maps to be finalized. It is unclear how redistricting will affect the seat’s partisan balance.
Even if Democrats decide not to compete aggressively for the seat, they have little to lose from drawing attention to figures like Kern. Democrats rode a wave of anti-Trump sentiment to turn Arizona blue in the presidential election in 2020 for the first time in decades. The party’s biggest gains were in the suburbs of the Phoenix and Scottsdale metropolitan areas, including the area outside of Phoenix that Kern represented.
In Arizona’s state House districts, voters choose two candidates to serve as state representatives. In 2020, Democrats fielded only a single candidate in Kern’s district, Judy Schwiebert. Voters opted to reelect one of the Republican state representatives, Shawnna Bolick, but ditched Kern in favor of Schwiebert. And Trump bested Biden among the legislative district’s voters by less than half of a percentage point.
Kern, who still had a few days left in his term as a legislator, was one of more than a dozen Republican state lawmakers to attend the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021. Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase, who went on to run for governor, also used campaign funds to pay for her hotel stay and parking the night after she attended the pre-riot rally.
Although he had already lost his reelection bid, Kern’s participation in the Jan. 6 rally that spilled into an attack on the Capitol has been a continual source of negative attention. When it emerged in late April that a contractor conducting Arizona’s controversial audit of the 2020 election results had hired Kern to help recount and inspect ballots, Democrats cried foul. The contractor employing Kern subsequently relieved him of his duties.