QAnon influencer Ron Watkins’ campaign for Congress isn’t really going anywhere. Not only is he failing to attract the necessary endorsements or donations to win the Republican primary, but his latest campaign finance filing shows that he’s had to fund the campaign almost entirely on his own.
The April quarterly filing with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) shows that the Ron Watkins For Congress campaign had just over $100,000 cash on hand at the end of March, which doesn’t sound too bad–until you look a closer and see that $95,000 of that is money Watkins himself loaned to the campaign.
In fact, the filing shows that during the first quarter of 2022, the campaign spent over $20,000 more than it brought in.
In contrast, the two frontrunners for the seat in Arizona’s second district did markedly better when it came to fundraising, according to their FEC filings. Democratic incumbent Tom O’Halleran raised $578,000 and ended March with $1.7 million cash on hand. Republican primary candidate and former Navy SEAL Eli Crane raised $647,000 and has $483,000 cash on hand.
Defending the campaign’s poor fundraising efforts to date, campaign manager Tony Teora told VICE News that “fundraising has only just started” even though the Republican primary is just over three months away.
Teora also defended Watkins loan to the campaign, comparing it to former President Donald Trump loaning money to his campaign. “Who knows, maybe Ron Watkins will someday become president of the United States? I think it's possible,” Teora said.
So, what is Watkins spending all his money on?
By far his biggest expense was accommodation: He spent over $21,000 on AirBnb rentals in three months. It’s unclear if these are all payments for the same property, but given that Watkins didn’t live in the country until just before he declared his candidacy last year, it seems likely that these payments are for his living arrangements in Arizona. Teora said the payments were for “for different properties across the Congressional district.”
Watkins’ expenses also list a payment to a hotel in Japan, where the QAnon influencer lived for many years before deciding to run for Congress. Teora said he and not Watkins had stayed in the hotel in Japan: “I was on business travel to Japan, it was campaign related.”
Another major expense was the salary for UFO conspiracist Teora, who was paid $14,500 during the first quarter of the year.
And maybe Watkins would have some more money left for traditional campaign expenses like ads, if he didn’t spend over $3,000 hiring guns and other props for campaign photos like the one below:
The latest filing comes just weeks after Watkins’ campaign filed an amended report for the final quarter of 2021, showing that they had in fact raised $20,000 more than previously reported.
The FEC sent Watkins a letter demanding an explanation for the incorrect filing, and highlighting the fact that his filings omit the names of a number of the people who donated to his campaign, which is illegal.
The latest report also shows that the campaign has a new treasurer in Briana Bilbray, also known as Briana Baleskie. Bilbray, who was paid $1,000 by the campaign, was previously the treasurer of a PAC called “Build the Wall”, an effort similar to the one run by Steve Bannon that made headlines this week when one of the people involved pleaded guilty to defrauding donors.
A review of the donations to the Watkins campaign during the first quarter of the year shows that most donations are coming not from voters in Arizona, but from his followers across the country.
Of the 70 or so donations listed in the FEC filing, only 10 come from donors located in Arizona, while the rest come from every corner of the U.S. including Alaska, Georgia, and Florida.
One Arizonan who’s backing Watkins’ campaign, however, is Alica Kosmata, who works for the Maricopa County Sheriff's office as an administrative assistant and donated $250 to the campaign. Watkins’ rise to fame within MAGA world came as a result of his promotion of the bogus recount in Maricopa County last year.
For some reason, pool companies appear to like Watkins’ campaign, with donations totaling over $3,200 coming from two separate pool construction and care companies.
The single biggest donation to Watkin’s campaign—apart from his own loan, of course—came from Rumen Naumovski, who donated $3,127. Naumovski is the founder of marketing firm Raww Digital, and recently launched Resist the Mainstream, which he describes as “a media company for people who have lost trust in the mainstream media.”
As well as taking in donations, Watkins is happy to give other campaigns a helping hand too. The Watkins for Congress campaign made a $500 donation to the Citizens for Gail Golec political action committee. Golec, a local election fraud conspiracist who’s running for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, recently promoted a viral disinformation video that claims the virus that causes COVID-19 is actually snake venom and has been spread via the water supply.
The Watkins campaign also paid PIN Business Network over $5,500 for an “email blast.” The company is owned by Joe Oltmann, a notorious election conspiracy theorist who played an influential role in promoting the bogus recount in Maricopa County last year and is currently boosting a slate of Big Lie candidates in Colorado.
So what does Watkins have to say about his stuttering Congressional campaign?
Not much. His last post on Trump’s Truth Social network was three weeks ago. He has not posted an update on his hugely popular Telegram channel—which is his primary campaigning platform—in almost a week. His last post there came on Easter Sunday when he wrote: “He is risen.”
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