Kanye West's improbable presidential campaign has been met with doubt, speculation, and concern since his July 4 announcement

By Sean Neumann
September 25, 2020 12:04 PM
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Kanye West speaks to a crowd at a campaign rally in South Carolina on July 19, 2020
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In less than three months, rapper Kanye West's surprise presidential bid has transformed from a viral tweet into a briefly serious political effort, before sputtering out with mediocre results.

As the embattled musician’s campaign struggled to meet deadlines and form a cohesive identity, it also raised concerns he would aid President Donald Trump's re-election in the process.

At the moment — six weeks from the November 3 election between Trump and Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden — West’s name will appear on the ballot in 12 states: Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, and Utah.

One former campaign operative who helped West’s efforts early on tells PEOPLE there are “too many chiefs” within West’s campaign, causing disorganization and resulting in the failure to get the independent candidate’s name on the ballot in at least 38 states.

That former operative would only speak with PEOPLE on the condition of anonymity while others have refused interviews, citing non-disclosure agreements with the campaign. West’s political operatives have most often avoided interview requests, while his music representatives have largely refrained from commenting about his politics.

After making controversial statements about revered abolitionist Harriet Tubman at his one political rally in South Carolina on July 19, as well as comments about his family, West’s wife Kim Kardashian West asked the public for “compassion” amid the concerning behavior, which the family linked to his bipolar disorder.

“Anyone who has this or has a loved one in their life who does, knows how incredibly complicated and painful it is to understand,” Kim, 39, wrote in a July statement.

A source told PEOPLE then that West, 43, was “struggling again,” before he and Kim were later spotted having an emotional reunion at their ranch in Cody, Wyoming.

Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West in March 2020
Marc Piasecki/WireImage

Despite concerns about the rapper’s health, his campaign carried on.

In August, the public grew skeptical that West’s quiet camp was running a spoiler campaign aimed at siphoning votes from Biden, after reports mounted of Republicans aiding his presidential efforts.

But all indications point to West taking the bid seriously — highlighted by a September filing with the Federal Elections Commission that shows West has spent at least $6.7 million on what’s turned out to be a tumultuous and confusing political campaign.

A $6.7 million effort

Kanye West on July 1, 2020
Backgrid

Many speculated about the seriousness of West’s presidential run until the FEC filing showing his large spending within the first eight weeks of his campaign.

A review of the records shows West has spent almost $4.5 million of that money on ballot access.

Most of that has been for naught, as TMZ reported Monday that $1 million of that went to gathering 93,000 voter signatures in Arizona to get his name on the state’s ballot.

In the end, a judge barred his name from the ballot anyhow, agreeing with a petition challenger who argued that West appearing next to Trump and Biden would cause confusion among voters.

And in July and August, West spent $400,000 on legal fees as his campaign faced challenges over the validity and accuracy of his filing paperwork.

What went wrong with Kanye’s paperwork

Kanye West
Matt Baron/Shutterstock

In nine states, West filed paperwork that was either rejected by state officials or withdrawn by his campaign after local residents or election attorneys threatened challenges to the filings.

In 29 of the 38 states where West failed to get on the ballot, it was because the campaign didn’t file paperwork on time.

“They’d line up vendors then wait til the last minute to make a decision, or Kanye makes up his mind at the last minute,” says the former campaign operative who spoke with PEOPLE.

West has been able to buy his way onto ballots in states where voter signatures aren’t required, spending as much as $35,000 in Oklahoma and as little as $500 in Louisiana to guarantee his name's inclusion.

But when it came to showing legitimate public support by gathering voter signatures, the campaign often sputtered.

West bypassed filing paperwork in larger states like California, where nearly 200,000 signatures are required of independent candidates. However, in smaller states like New Jersey — where just 800 signatures are required — the musician’s efforts also fell short.

A local New Jersey election attorney filed a complaint with the state alleging many of the signatures West's campaign had submitted in his filings had been written incompletely or appeared to be jotted down in the same handwriting as others.

The attorney, Scott Salmon, told the Associated Press that as many as 600 of the 1,300 signatures West’s campaign submitted were invalid.

West’s campaign soon withdrew its New Jersey filing, while the candidate was blocked from ballots in states like Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio.

“I don’t think he’s ready to be president,” Terrell Barnes, an Illinois library trustee who threatened to challenge West’s filings, tells PEOPLE about his concerns.

West was ultimately booted from Illinois' ballot after multiple objections were filed.

At the same time, West's 2020 run has been met with skepticism from voters. The former West operative surmises to PEOPLE that the rapper’s bid is for business.

“In my experience in campaigns [over] the last 40 or so years, sometimes winning to a candidate means getting their name out there or helping out their business,” the source says. “In this case, music and branding.”

Others fear political meddling.

Republicans aiding Kanye's efforts

President Donald Trump hugs Kanye West during a visit to the White House in October 2018
Oliver Contreras - Pool/Getty

West’s political operation has been scrutinized for its ties to the Republican party, leading many to speculate that the musician — who has publicly flaunted his friendship with Trump over the years — is running to help the president win re-election.

West told Forbes in July that he no longer backs Trump — “I am taking the red hat off, with this interview”— but four weeks later, after reports of GOP support for West’s campaign made headlines, the musician seemed to embrace the entanglement.

When the outlet asked if his campaign’s goal was to take away votes from Biden, West replied: “I’m not going to argue with you. Jesus is King.”

The biggest bombshell came in August when West privately met with Jared Kushner in Colorado. Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, called their meeting a “friendly discussion,” and said they briefly discussed policy.

Accusations of spoiler campaigns are not unheard of. In the 2016 election, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein were the subjects of similar finger-pointing. Those candidates had polling numbers that hovered near 10 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

West has two percent support among voters, according to one recent national poll conducted by Politico + Morning Consult.

But West’s 2020 bid was quickly marred with GOP connections and what those ties could mean in states like Colorado and Iowa, where the presidential race is tighter.

“Biden has faced questions about the enthusiasm of support he is receiving from African Americans,” Rice University presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told the AP. “This has been such a strange year: if West even gets 2 to 3 percent, that could matter.”

In August, a Wisconsin attorney who had just recently represented Trump's campaign in a lawsuit over a political television ad was spotted dropping off West's campaign paperwork.

Tim Murtaugh, a spokesperson for Trump’s campaign, told PEOPLE at the time that the president’s campaign has “no knowledge of anything Kanye West is doing or who is doing it for him.”

Yet a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Republican Party told PEOPLE the party supported West on the ballot: "It appears that the Kanye West campaign made a smart decision by hiring an experienced election attorney," the Republican spokesperson, Alesha Guenther, said. "We welcome Kanye West and all other candidates who qualified for ballot access to the race."

All in all, even Republicans couldn’t help West’s filing issues: His ballot petition in Wisconsin was thrown out when a Brown County judge said the Republican attorney, Lane Ruhland, had turned in West’s paperwork 14 seconds too late — another signal that, regardless of its intentions, the West campaign has simply struggled to operate.

What Kanye’s campaign staffers have said

Kanye West
Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

It’s rare for a presidential candidate’s platform to be as unclear as West’s, due to both confusing and controversial statements from the candidate, and total silence from his campaign.

West angered voters with controversial comments about abolitionist Tubman at his one campaign rally in South Carolina. In text message interviews with Forbes and The New York Times, West delivered confusing statements about his late entry into the 2020 race and why he was running for president in the first place.

John Boyd, a music manager who West has so far paid at least $25,000 to help steer his campaign, pushed back on a question from the Times last week about whether West launched his 2020 bid too late, on July 4.

“That’s you and I, the way we look at time,” Boyd said, in a rare comment from one of West’s top advisors. “Kanye doesn’t look at time like that. For him, any time is a good time.”

West’s listed running mate, a 57-year-old Wyoming-based biblical life coach named Michelle Tidball, has so far made no public statements about the campaign. Tidball has not responded to PEOPLE’s requests for comment since July.

And the few public statements on behalf of West’s quietly operating campaign have come from the Republican political operatives aiding his efforts.

Gregg Keller, who was once considered to lead Trump’s 2016 campaign, says he’s a senior strategist with West’s campaign and has been vocal in blaming the trip-ups thus far on Democratic actors.

(Public records show West began paying Keller’s firm, Atlas Strategy Group, in late July and has since paid the group $1.28 million.)

After the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously ruled to keep West’s name off the state’s ballot, Keller tweeted: “KANYE 2020 will continue to fight the consistent and concerted efforts of the Democratic Party to deny voters the opportunity to vote for Kanye West for President.”

Keller — like Tidball, Boyd, and others who’ve helped bring West 2020 to half-life over the last three months — has not responded to PEOPLE’s interview request. West's music rep also did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.