The Trump campaign insists it has "no knowledge of anything Kanye West is doing or who is doing it for him"

By Sean Neumann
August 05, 2020 08:23 PM
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Kanye West (left) and President Donald Trump
Kanye West and Donald Trump

Kanye West's independent presidential bid is getting a boost from Republican operatives and an attorney representing President Donald Trump's campaign, according to multiple news reports.

At the same time that his personal life has been in turmoil following several alarming statements — with his family asking for compassion and linking his behavior to his bipolar disorder — his 2020 campaign has continued to push forward in recent weeks.

As of Wednesday afternoon West, 43, has at least filed paperwork to appear on the November ballot in Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

He gave up on an effort to get on the New Jersey ballot, following an objection there; and will also appear in Oklahoma after paying a filing fee. He has missed many other state deadlines, however — in New York, Texas and elsewhere.

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, did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment Wednesday and similarly told the reporter in the video: "No comment."

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

"There’s no conflict to waive, but we have no knowledge of anything Kanye West is doing or who is doing it for him,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement.

Asked by reporters at the White House on Wednesday if he was aware of or had encouraged Republicans to help West, the president said: "No not at all, no not at all. Other than I get along with him very well. I like him, I like his wife."

The campaign would not answer whether it was aware Ruhland was working with West prior to Tuesday. Reps for West did not respond to a request for comment.

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

"It appears that the Kanye West campaign made a smart decision by hiring an experienced election attorney," Guenther said. "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."

Democratic officials and other liberals criticized the Trump campaign and those helping West make it onto state ballots, following reports of the campaign's GOP connections this week.

Critics quickly made the case that, in light of Republican support, West's campaign may be more than a novelty and could be seen as a third-party bid to draw votes from Trump's election rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

"Just a Republican operative trying to get Kanye West on the ballot," tweeted Ben Rhodes, the former deputy national security adviser under President Barack Obama and Biden. "What a disgusting dirty trick that shows no respect for voters or whatever Kanye is going through."

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

Elsewhere, people with Republican ties reportedly have been helping West gather the signatures he needs to submit to states in order to appear on the 2020 ballot alongside Trump and Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

TMZ reports 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 for comment — was arrested in 2008 on charges of voter fraud while working for the California Republican Party, according to The New York Times, and he later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

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.

Keller did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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.”

President Donald Trump hugs Kanye West during a visit to the White House in 2018.
Oliver Contreras - Pool/Getty
From left: President Donald Trump, Kanye West, and Ivanka Trump
Justin McConney

Though West's campaign has filed the required paperwork to appear on the ballot in some states, it has faced challenges over the validity of the signatures it has been gathering.

In New Jersey, one challenger accused West's campaign of forging signatures on its petition, according to an objection filing obtained by PEOPLE. West's campaign withdrew the filing this week and the candidate will now no longer appear on the state's ballot.

In Illinois, West faces three objections to his petition over the validity of the signatures. A source tells PEOPLE the state's Board of Elections recommended Monday to dismiss at least one objection filing after both the challengers and representatives for West failed to show up for a hearing on the matter.

West would need 270 electoral college votes to win the presidential election on Nov. 3, but the last-minute candidate has missed the filing deadline in more than 10 states already, including Delaware, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

California's filing deadline is Thursday, and West would need to submit roughly 197,000 signatures at the very least, according to the state.

West's campaign failed to submit the 10,000 signatures needed in South Carolina and the 30,000 needed in New York last month, and his team only submitted a small amount more than the 800 required in his failed New Jersey bid.