'Scorched earth campaign': Group says 3 officials from Pa. threaten American democracy
Three prominent Pennsylvania Republicans have been identified as "a grave danger to American democracy" in a new report.
The report — expected to be issued this week by the Defend Democracy Project, an organization founded by two men who worked for the Obama campaign and administration — gives these distinctions to state senator and gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R-10) and U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-16). Authors cited the trio's involvement in an array of activities related to former President Donald Trump's efforts to challenge the 2020 election results.
"These three individuals all took part in unprecedented attempts to overturn the will of American voters, but that is not all they have in common — Mastriano, Perry, and Kelly continue to pose a grave danger to American democracy," the report states. "Together with other MAGA Republicans, they are leading a scorched earth campaign to consolidate power over elections for decades to come, both in Pennsylvania and across the country."
Michael Berman, a state director for the Defend Democracy Project, characterized Trump and some of his allies as part of an "ongoing, violent criminal conspiracy" in a call with reporters Tuesday.
The organization's mission is to "work with leading organizations, noted experts and critical validators to make sure this plot to overturn elections can’t go forward under the cover of darkness," according to its website. It's working in six other states besides Pennsylvania — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
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State Sen. Doug Mastriano
In their rationale for Mastriano's inclusion, the Defend Democracy Project listed the following concerns:
- His call for treating the popular vote as non-binding for presidential electors if the "election was compromised."
- His legally questionable proposal to force all Pennsylvanians to re-register to vote.
- His use of campaign cash to bus supporters to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
- And his attempts to bring an election audit to Pennsylvania, similar to what was conducted in Arizona.
Mastriano — who's demonstrated a routine avoidance of media outside of explicitly right-wing circles — has consistently doubled down on unproven claims of widespread voter fraud. Earlier this year his bill to expand the use of poll watchers across the commonwealth was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, who cited concern that the measure would undermine "the integrity of our election process and (encourage) voter intimidation."
U.S. Rep. Scott Perry
Regarding Perry, the nonprofit noted:
- Testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson stating that Perry met with Trump officials bent on overturning the 2020 election.
- His use of conspiracy theories to urge investigations from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, according to records provided by Meadows.
- His work as a liaison between the White House and Pennsylvania Legislature in coordinating efforts to delay or object to the commonwealth's Electoral College votes for now-President Joe Biden.
Perry's office did not return a call by press deadline. Earlier this year he said he'd done nothing wrong in relation to these matters.
"My conversations with the president or the Assistant Attorney General, as they have been with all with whom I’ve engaged following the election, were a reiteration of the many concerns about the integrity of our elections, and that those allegations should at least be investigated to ease the minds of the voters that they had, indeed, participated in a free and fair election," Perry said in a statement in January.
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U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly
Kelly, meanwhile, was cited for:
- His unsuccessful court challenge to the legality of 2020 mail ballots in Pennsylvania.
- His vote to overturn the 2020 election results.
- An allegation by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) that he helped to orchestrate a false elector scheme.
- Comments such as his claim that former President Barack Obama "is to run a shadow government that is gonna totally upset the new (Trump) agenda.”
Asked in July if he still believed that the election was stolen from Trump, Kelly told an Erie Times-News reporter: "Well, we're already what, almost two years into this administration? So I think that's past tense. There's no use discussing it today. Nothing's going to change today. I stated my opinions back when it took place."
Kelly's office did not return a phone call by press deadline.
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About the Defend Democracy Project
The Defend Democracy Project describes its mission as ensuring that "American voters determine the outcome of elections." It was established earlier this year.
According to Berman, the organization was founded by Leslie Dach and Brad Woodhouse.
An online bio for Dach states that he served as senior counselor to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services as its global Ebola coordinator. He's also served as senior adviser to six presidential campaigns, including Hillary Clinton's 2016 run.
Woodhouse, in his bio, is characterized as "a longtime Democratic strategist, having previously served as President of some of the nation’s leading progressive groups including Correct the Record, American Bridge 21st Century, and Americans United for Change." It also states that he worked as a senior strategist for the Obama campaign and communications director for the Democratic National Committee.
Berman said the Defend Democracy Project examined the public records and statements of politicians across the country and compiled its list based on those who objected to certifying the 2020 election or implied that it was "stolen" from Trump.
Bruce Siwy is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network's Pennsylvania state capital bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @BruceSiwy.