Kanye West's Campaign Is Filled to the Brim With GOP Operatives

A number of Republican lawyers have ties to the campaign and a West elector shared "White Lives Matter" content.
September 1, 2020, 4:53pm
Kanye West answers questions during a service at Lakewood Church Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Houston.
Kanye West answers questions during a service at Lakewood Church Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

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Kanye West’s presidential campaign still hasn’t filed its legally mandated FEC reports, but documents show Republican election lawyers keep climbing aboard his campaign to spoil Joe Biden’s chances in November.

West will be on the ballot in at least 10 states in November with the aid of a widening cast of GOP lawyers and activists.

In court documents filed Friday in a lawsuit for ballot access in Wisconsin, the 43-year-old rapper listed his mailing address as that of the top Republican law firm Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky. Jill Holtzman Vogel, a state senator in Virginia who was the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor in 2017, is the firm’s managing partner.

Vogel, best known nationally for her proposed legislation to effectively mandate transvaginal ultrasounds for any woman seeking an abortion, is the former chief counsel of the Republican National Committee.

Her law firm, stocked with top Republican lawyers like former Trump White House aide Bill McGinley, has been paid this election cycle by leading GOP politicians including Mitch McConnell, Tom Cotton and Liz Cheney as well as the National Republican Senate Committee. Politico described the firm in 2016 as “specializing in untraceable pressure groups for conservative causes.”

It is unclear what role, if any, her firm plays in the campaign. Vogel did not respond to a message asking for comment, and West’s address was updated Monday to the Wyoming address his campaign has used in other filings.

Her firm isn’t representing West in the Wisconsin lawsuit. Instead, Erick Kaardal, a Minneapolis-based attorney who previously served as secretary/treasurer of the Minnesota Republican Party, is representing West. Kaardal, who also did not respond to request for comment, has described himself as a “Christian populist,” and he has made a career of suing government entities. Earlier this year, he represented perennial presidential candidate Rocky De La Fuente in an unsuccessful effort to have De La Fuente appear on Minnesota’s Republican primary ballot as a challenger to Donald Trump.

In a blog post online, Kaardal's firm, Mohrman Kaardal & Erickson, claimed the court documents had only used Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky's address because of a clerical error.

West claims that the state election commission was wrong to say that he did not file his candidacy by the state’s 5 p.m. deadline because he filed before 5:01 p.m.

The state election commission ruled in a 5-1 vote in late August that the rapper did not qualify for the ballot because of the late registration by his campaign’s representative, veteran Wisconsin Republican election lawyer Lane Ruhland.

Ruhland represented the Trump campaign in federal court only one week before her attempt to file West’s campaign papers in a lawsuit against a local television station that ran a negative ad from a Democratic super PAC against Trump. She has not responded to requests for comment.

West had better luck getting on the ballot in another swing state on Monday. An objection that he’d failed to properly identify himself as a registered Republican was rejected by a unanimous vote in Iowa.

Rob Sand, the elected state auditor in Iowa and member of the majority Democratic panel that heard the case, told VICE News that the decision to allow West on the ballot was based entirely on Iowa law.

“The only way to resolve the things that concern me about American politics these days is to demonstrate that we do not have elected officials who make decisions solely on the basis of partisanship all the time,” he said. “We deserve to be led by people who care about what the law is and care about maintaining a democratic system rather than holding power for power’s sake.”

Yet West’s campaign’s ties with Republicans in Iowa are quite explicit. His petition to get on the ballot was signed by Todd Henderson, a longtime Republican operative in the state, whose Facebook cover photo recently showed him with Donald Trump. Henderson has also repeatedly shared pro-Trump content on his now-deleted Twitter account.

Further, one of the electors pledged to support West’s campaign, Tracy Barkalow, not only had a “Trump 2020” cover photo but also shared racially inflammatory right-wing content on his Facebook page, including a photo labeled “White Lives Matter.” Henderson liked the post.

A top official on the West campaign has shared similar content on social media as well. West’s campaign strategist, veteran Republican operative Gregg Keller, tweeted his support last weekend of an effort to raise money for the legal defense of Kyle Rittenhouse, the white 17-year-old accused of murdering two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last week.

On Saturday, Keller tweeted “Hawley-These Dudes and Chicks 2024” in support of a splinter group of College Republicans at Arizona State University who are raising money on behalf of the accused murderer and suggested they form a presidential ticket with Josh Hawley, the Republican senator from Missouri.

There are still significant questions about the goals of West’s presidential campaign. West, who recently met with top White House aide Jared Kushner, has often praised Donald Trump, and his campaign effort is studded with Republican operatives and activists.  Further there are questions about  West’s reported struggles with mental illness as well. Kim Kardashian, the rapper’s wife, posted on Instagram in July that he was suffering from a bipolar episode.

The rapper has held only one campaign event, which was part of his failed effort to qualify for the ballot in South Carolina in July. He hasn’t made any public statements via his Twitter account since August 21, and he’s 11 days late in filing his initial campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission.

However, West is still pushing ahead to get on the ballot in the swing state of Arizona in advance of Friday’s presidential filing deadline. West needs over 39,000 valid signatures to qualify in the Grand Canyon State. Even there, there are concerns about the campaign’s Republican ties.

One Arizonian told VICE News about being approached at a local Republican event in Yavapai County over the weekend and asked if they “wanted to help the Republican Party.” The person was then offered the opportunity to sign a petition to put West on the ballot. The offer was declined.