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House Ethics Committee drops complaint against GOP Rep accused of signature fraud

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House Ethics Committee drops complaint against GOP Rep accused of signature fraud

May 17, 2024 | 5:15 pm ET
By Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
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House Ethics Committee drops complaint against GOP Rep accused of signature fraud
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Rep. Austin Smith, R-Surprise, on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives on April 17, 2024. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

An ethics complaint filed against Republican state Rep. Austin Smith, after he was accused of petition signature fraud, was dropped by the House Ethics Committee Friday. 

Smith dropped his reelection bid last month after he was accused of personally forging more than 100 petition signatures to get on the 2024 ballot. Now the lawmaker is facing a possible criminal investigation after state election officials forwarded his petition signatures to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. 

The lawmaker from Surprise is a member of Arizona’s far-right Arizona Freedom Caucus and a former top official at Turning Point Action, the political campaign arm of Turning Point USA run by Charlie Kirk. The Washington Post reported that Smith resigned his post at Turning Point the same day he dropped out of the race. 

In a letter sent Friday to the Democratic lawmakers who filed the complaint, House Ethics Chair Republican Rep. Joseph Chaplik said that he would not be pursuing the complaint as he does not see it as a violation of the House rules. 

“The Committee is not a law enforcement or prosecutorial arm of government, nor does it act in any way to interfere with such entities,” Chaplik said in his letter. He went on to say that Democratic lawmakers were relying on a legal complaint and did not have any “personal knowledge” of wrongdoing by Smith. 

“Additionally, your complaint relies exclusively on a legal complaint filed in an election-challenge lawsuit that names Mr. Smith as a defendant in his personal capacity,” Chaplik said. That legal complaint was dismissed, however, it has been referred to the Attorney General’s Office by state election officials. 

“Under these circumstances, your complaint would require this Committee to engage in a speculative inquiry that is outside the scope of the Committee’s jurisdiction,” Chaplik said. 

Democratic lawmakers shot back at Chaplik for dismissing the complaint.

“Four members of our caucus filed this complaint two weeks ago, so it was puzzling why it has taken so long to be released to the public when the Chairman didn’t intend to provide accountability anyway,” House Democratic Leader Lupe Contreras said in a statement. “We gave Republicans ample time to hold their member accountable, but it became clear today that they have no intention of doing that. I thank our members for stepping up for accountability.”

The complaint was filed on May 3 by Democratic Representatives Laura Terech, Mae Peshlakai, Charles Lucking and Stephanie Stahl Hamilton. 

The lawmakers contend in the complaint that Smith violated House Rule 1 saying that the possible criminal charges would tarnish “the public’s perception of this institution.” 

“These are serious allegations and, if true, likely constitute disorderly behavior in violation of House Rule 1,” the complaint says. 

Smith, a member of the House’s Municipal Oversight and Elections Committee, has decried unproven election fraud in Maricopa County, and has joked that county officials have committed mail-in ballot signature fraud on social media. 

Smith has called the allegations against him “ludicrous” and accused Democrats of creating a “coordinated attack” against him. If charged and found guilty, Smith could be prohibited from running for office for a period of five years.