The head of the Arizona Republican Party wants Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate whether Democrat Katie Hobbs used her official position “to suppress free speech.”
In a letter Tuesday, Kelli Ward cites evidence that shows someone from the Secretary of State’s Office asked Twitter in 2021 to remove two posts. The posts had to do with allegations that Hobbs’ office had contracted with a private firm to set up a new voter database, a firm that the person making the post claimed had a foreign contractor.
“Is our entire election system foreign owned?” was one of the posts made by someone operating under the handle of “@normal_every.”
Capitol Media Services has confirmed that Murphy Hebert, the communications director for Hobbs’ office, did send a message on Jan. 7, 2021 — the day after the U.S. Capitol riot — to the Center for Internet Security. Hebert said that organization is a kind of clearinghouse that election officials across the country used to combat what they believe is misinformation.
“These messages falsely assert that the voter registration system is owned and therefore operated by foreign actors,” Hebert wrote to CIS. “This is an attempt to further undermine confidence in the election institution in Arizona.”
Hebert acknowledged the state did have a contract with Sutherland Global Services. But she told Capitol Media Services that was simply to help build the database.
More to the point, Hebert said, the database is owned and controlled by the state.
CIS forwarded the messages and complaints to Twitter.
“I wanted to let you know that both tweets have been removed,” CIS told Hebert four days later.
Ward, in her letter to Brnovich, said that was improper.
“The First Amendment protects citizens’ speech from the government – not the other way around,” she said. “As Americans, we have the right to be critical of our government and vocalize those concerns.”
So Ward wants Brnovich to determine if Hobbs violated any state or federal laws.
But Ward has another legal theory.
She contends that, in getting Twitter to take down the messages, the social media site effectively made a non-monetary contribution to her campaign. And Ward said even the fact that Hobbs used office staff and government emails to get the posts removed appears to violate laws about the use of public resources to influence elections.
Allie Bones, the assistant secretary of state, said Ward is missing the central point about why her office sought removal of the posts. And she said it starts with the messages being false.
“It is standard practice for government entities, organizations and corporations alike to report content on social media that violate a platform’s terms of service,” she said.
“It is the secretary of state’s job to make sure that voters are informed about how to vote and how our election system works,” Bones said. “One of the ways we do that is by working to counter disinformation online that can confuse voters.”
The incident has become part of the national conversation by election deniers who say this is just part of a broader conspiracy by Twitter and other social media sites to help Democrats.
On Sunday, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican who has been at the center of several far-right conspiracy theories, posted her own Twitter message declaring that Hobbs, as secretary of state and, at the time, a gubernatorial candidate, “used the power of the AZ SOS to collude with Twitter to unconstitutionally violate First Amendment rights of Americans for her own political gain.”
“This is communism and Hobbs can not be governor,” Greene wrote. “I’m calling for a federal investigation.”
Tucker Carlson of Fox News added his own comments Monday, calling the move to take down the Twitter post “a crime, a crime against our democracy.”
And Kari Lake, the Republican gubernatorial hopeful who lost to Hobbs, said the governor-elect’s “war on political dissent and the First Amendment has only just begun.”
“Shame on all those who have refused to hold this petty tyrant accountable,” Lake posted on Twitter.
Hebert said such comments fail to understand what happened and why.
“Identifying and correcting malinformation and misinformation is clearly a part of election security,” she said. And Hebert said that will continue.
An aide to Brnovich declined to comment, saying the office has received the letter and is reviewing it.
Brnovich is Republican who has had his own series of conflicts with Hobbs. Several are over interpretations of election laws.
But Brnovich also faced a State Bar investigation after Hobbs complained that he violated rules of ethics that govern the conduct of attorneys by acting as the lawyer for the secretary of state’s office while also taking actions contrary to its interests.
That inquiry, along with another based on a similar complaint by the Arizona Board of Regents, was settled with an agreement requiring Brnovich to come up with a policy on how he would handle conflicts of interests in the future with government agencies he represents when he believes they are breaking the law.