Trump "knows his chances suck ... so he’s down to cheating," one Democratic lawmaker in Wisconsin said

By Adam Carlson and Sean Neumann
August 07, 2020 11:47 AM
Advertisement

Critics say it's becoming more and more clear that Kanye West's last-minute independent presidential campaign is being aided by Republican operatives in a thinly veiled attempt to help President Donald Trump against former Vice President Joe Biden.

In a text message interview with Forbes this week, West, 43, was circumspect about his support from Trump campaign and GOP lawyers, Republican Party strategists and others.

"I’m not going to argue with you. Jesus is King," he said after the magazine pointed out that his bid looks like an effort to pull votes from Biden because West will not actually appear in enough states to win the presidency himself. (One poll this summer put West's national support at 2 percent.)

He only announced his campaign — under the self-created Birthday Party with the slogan "YES!" — on the Fourth of July and filed his first paperwork about a week and a half later.

The first state ballot he joined was Oklahoma, where he paid a filing fee, submitting a form with "DONDA'S PLACE" handwritten on top of it. His mother, Donda, was born in Oklahoma.

Soon enough, however, West's team began submitting paperwork in a variety of states around the country in order to get him on the ballot as an independent — successfully in some places, unsuccessfully in others.

Such a late-stage campaign faces a daunting logistical challenge, especially amid the novel coronavirus pandemic and especially one by a political newcomer: staffers have to be hired, voters' signatures must be gathered, electors agreed-to.

West is, in a few places, pulling it off: He's filed to appear on 10 state ballots, though not all of those submissions have been accepted yet and he withdrew from New Jersey following an objection.

A wave of recent news reports by PEOPLE and other outlets have shown that he is supported by traditionally Republican figures. The list of connections seems to grow longer each day.

On Tuesday, a Wisconsin attorney who has been representing Trump's campaign in a lawsuit over a political television ad was seen by a local reporter dropping off West's campaign paperwork.

The attorney, Lane Ruhland, has not commented. She told one reporter, "I'm going to leave any comment about the petitions, the papers and what is going on the campaign itself."

Ruhland specializes in campaign finance and election law and represented the Republican National Committee in 2016.

The New York Times reported this week that Mark Jacoby, with the signature-gathering group Let the Voters Decide, has assisted West's nascent campaign gather signatures in Ohio, West Virginia and Arkansas. A canvasser in Illinois told NBC News that Jacoby was involved with the rapper's campaign there as well.

Jacoby — who could not be reached by PEOPLE — was arrested in 2008 on charges of voter fraud while working for the California Republican Party, according to Times, and he later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

“We do not comment on any current clients, but like all Americans, anyone who is qualified to stand for election has the right to run,” Jacoby said in a statement to the paper.

Kanye West
Matt Baron/Shutterstock

New York magazine reported that one of West's listed electors in Vermont is Chuck Wilton, who was also selected earlier this year to be a delegate for Trump at the Republican National Convention. Wilton confirmed his identity with the magazine, which also reported Monday that West's campaign has another Republican tie on the ground in Arkansas.

Gregg Keller, who is listed as the West campaign's contact in its filing in that state, is an executive director at the American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference — attended earlier this year by Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Vice reported on Wednesday that Colorado-based GOP strategist Rachel George, who was the spokeswoman for Republican Sen. Cory Gardner when he was in the House of Representatives, had reached out to colleagues asking to help get West on the ballot, saying she was looking to recruit others who are “in on the joke.”

"I have the most random favor to ask of you ever... would you help me get Kanye West on the ballot in Colorado? No, I am not joking, and I realize this is hilarious," George wrote in an email to another operative, which was obtained by Vice. (She did not respond to PEOPLE.)

The paperwork West's team submitted Thursday to get him on the ballot in Colorado showed that, of the nine electors — people who would vote for him in the Electoral College if he won that state — four were Republicans.

Two others were unaffiliated and three were Democrats. "Kind of a bizarre thing," one election official told PEOPLE.

One of the registered Democrats spoke with ABC News and said she had signed at the behest of George, who is a friend. The woman said George told her to ignore journalists who would reach out.

While the woman said, "I knew I shouldn't have" about signing the paper, she also told ABC: "If someone actually wants to run for president, you know, why not give voters the choice in that democratic process?"

The woman said she had not yet made up her mind about her vote.

In Wisconsin — a pivotal swing state in the 2016 election, where Trump triumphed by less than 23,000 votes — five of West's 10 listed electors also have Republican ties, according to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"I like a lot of his ideas. He'd be good for the country," one of the electors, a county official who has written pro-Republican social media posts, told the paper of West.

He said he hadn't decided who to vote for and that he got involved with West's campaign when someone there called him, but he was not more specific. Others declined to comment.

Kanye West speaks to a crowd at a campaign rally in South Carolina on July 19.
MEGA

Alesha Guenther, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Republican Party, told PEOPLE in a statement they "welcome" West's bid and any others.

"It appears that the Kanye West campaign made a smart decision by hiring an experienced election attorney," Guenther said, referring to Ruhland, who has also worked with Trump's campaign.

"We welcome Kanye West and all other candidates who qualified for ballot access to the race, and look forward to delivering Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes to President Trump," Guenther said.

Democrats there reacted bluntly.

"@realDonaldTrump knows his chances suck in WI so he’s down to cheating," Wisconsin state Rep. Mark Pocan tweeted. "MAGA folks will somehow justify this, everyone else will see this as loser-like and pathetic."

How West came to be involved with Republicans remains unclear and his reps have not discussed it with PEOPLE. His campaign team has not responded to questions.

In recent years, West became an outspoken supporter of Trump and his wife, Kim Kardashian West, worked with the White House on criminal justice reform issues. But he insisted last month that he was rescinding his support for Trump.

He has been equally critical of Biden and of the idea that, in his words, Black people should overwhelmingly lean Democratic.

"That is a form of racism and white supremacy and white control to say that all Black people need to be Democrat and to assume that me running is me splitting the vote," West told Forbes last month.

He told the magazine this week that he was "walking . . . to win" but, Forbes wrote, he "did not respond when asked whether he feels he’s being used."

He called his nascent campaign operation a "God production" when Forbes characterized it as "slapdash," given some of its issues so far. "THE GOAL IS TO WIN," he tweeted Thursday.

President Donald Trump hugs Kanye West during a visit to the White House in 2018.
Oliver Contreras - Pool/Getty
President Donald Trump
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump campaign says it has nothing to do with West, and the president told reporters the same earlier this week.

"No not at all, no not at all. Other than I get along with him very well. I like him, I like his wife," Trump said at the White House on Wednesday.

"We have no knowledge of anything Kanye West is doing or who is doing it for him,” a campaign spokesman said in a statement.

A few weeks ago, however, the president gave a somewhat different take on West's chances.

Responding to a tweet about how West may fragment the Black vote for Biden, he responded, in part: "That shouldn’t be hard."