Elections

Taxpayers Foot Bill for Legislators’ ‘Election Fraud’ Trip

Two Montana Republican legislators were reimbursed $1,500 last year for travel to Mike Lindell’s South Dakota cyber symposium

By Alex Sakariassen, Montana Free Press
Boxes of ballots are counted at the Flathead County Fairgrounds on Nov. 3, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Two Montana lawmakers were given taxpayer funds last fall to reimburse their attendance at a three-day “cyber symposium” in South Dakota where the host, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, perpetuated debunked allegations of widespread election fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

According to records obtained by Montana Free Press from the Legislative Services Division, Rep. Bob Phalen, R-Lindsay, was reimbursed $979.37 for lodging and mileage expenses incurred during his trip to the symposium. Rep. Paul Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, was likewise reimbursed $528.04 for mileage. The reimbursements were drawn from constituent services funds allocated to help Montana lawmakers communicate with and represent their constituents and attend events in service of constituent interests.

Phalen and Fielder were among six Republican legislators identified by the website Missoula County Tyranny as having attended the symposium in August. Records show that the other attending lawmakers — Rep. Steve Galloway, R-Great FallsRep. Jerry Schillinger, R-CircleRep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula; and Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Stevensville — did not file requests for constituent services reimbursements related to the event. 

In an email to MTFP Monday, Fielder responded to questions about the constituent benefit of attending Lindell’s symposium by citing a section of the Montana Constitution directing legislators to “insure the purity of elections and guard against abuses of the electoral process.” Fielder wrote that if a single voter in his district had their vote “canceled out by an illegal vote” cast elsewhere in the district, state or nation, “that is a concern to me.”

“The Cyber Symposium gave me a lot of information about irregularities in the 2020 election,” Fielder continued, “and put me in touch with a lot of election experts and other legislators in other states that are working on election integrity issues so that I can better fulfill my oath to defend and protect the constitution of the U.S.A. and Montana.”

Phalen did not respond to an email posing the same questions.

In the months after the August symposium, several of the attending lawmakers including Tschida and Manzella helped to organize similar symposiums around Montana. Those events featured presentations from a pair of national election skeptics alleging that voter fraud in Montana and nationwide resulted in President Donald Trump’s electoral defeat. Manzella previously informed MTFP that she also facilitated a Nov. 10 meeting between Lindell and Attorney General Austin Knudsen in an attempt to gain the latter’s support for a U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit challenging the 2020 election results. Knudsen did not join the effort, and Lindell’s lawsuit was never filed. 

Election officials and political scientists have rejected the claims and information presented by Lindell and others at the South Dakota symposium and events in Montana as meritless, stating repeatedly that there is no evidence of voter fraud on the scale or with the intent alleged by Trump’s supporters.

Last week, Seattle Times political reporter Jim Brunner reported that three Washington lawmakers were similarly reimbursed with taxpayer funds for their trips to Lindell’s symposium. Those lawmakers — Republican Reps. Vicki Kraft, Robert Sutherland and Brad Klippert — claimed a total of $4,361 for lodging and airfare. The reimbursements prompted the editorial board of the Tri-City Herald to request that Klippert apologize to taxpayers and that he and the others pay the money back to the state.

“While it isn’t an exorbitant amount,” the board wrote on Jan. 7, “public money should not be spent perpetuating a false narrative — especially one that sabotages our democratic system.”

According to reporting by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last fall, former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman also utilized taxpayer funds to travel to the South Dakota symposium. In that case, the money came from funding for an investigation into the state’s 2020 presidential election results ordered by the Wisconsin Assembly and headed by Gableman.

Tschida and Manzella have repeatedly pressed fellow lawmakers to pursue their own investigation of election security in Montana, and were among 86 Republican legislators who signed a letter last fall formally requesting the formation of a special legislative committee for that purpose. Tschida urged the state’s Legislative Council last month to consider using federal relief funds for the effort and estimated the cost at roughly $50,000. To date, legislative leadership has taken no action on the request.

This story originally appeared in the Montana Free Press, which can be found online at montanafreepress.org.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.