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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Former gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp drops election fraud lawsuit after Washington state threatens legal sanctions

Loren Culp, Republican candidate for Washington state governor, is cheered on Friday by hundreds of supporters during a rally held in Spokane Valley.  (COLIN MULVANY)
By Jim Brunner and Joseph O’Sullivan Seattle Times

In an ignominious retreat, losing Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp has withdrawn his lawsuit against Secretary of State Kim Wyman alleging widespread election irregularities and fraud.

Culp’s lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court last month, tried to sow doubts on his 545,000-vote loss to Gov. Jay Inslee. It claimed “intolerable voting anomalies” in an election “that was at all times fraudulent.”

But, facing a threat of legal sanctions for making meritless claims in a court of law, Culp’s attorney, Stephen Pidgeon, withdrew the lawsuit Thursday night, according to a copy of his motion supplied by the state Attorney General’s office.

The lawsuit was withdrawn “with prejudice,” meaning it cannot be refiled.

The about-face by Culp occurred after Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office warned Pidgeon the state intended to file a motion to dismiss the case, and take the unusual step of asking a judge to impose sanctions unless he withdrew the case by noon Friday.

The notice, which Ferguson personally signed off on, said the claims made by the Culp campaign were “factually baseless.”

For example, it said, counties had contacted people Culp claimed were deceased and found the voters were alive, or had died after voting.

Culp’s tactics – and resulting defeat – are reminiscent the post-election flailing by President Donald Trump, who similarly leveled debunked fraud claims in an unsuccessful effort to overturn his loss to President-elect Joe Biden.

“Rather than concede gracefully, Mr. Culp has used this lawsuit to distract from the magnitude of his loss and to sow confusion. Mr. Culp also fundraised off his baseless allegations, even as the country has erupted in violence stoked by the types of reckless allegations made in this litigation. This past week has put into stark relief the damage that has been wrought by such untruths,” Ferguson’s notice said.

On a Facebook Live video with supporters Friday, Culp said continuing the lawsuit would have cost millions of dollars, only to risk it being thrown out and being forced to repay the state’s legal fees.

“Given this minefield in front of us, we’re going to back off, go around it, and live to fight another day,” said Culp.

“It doesn’t mean that the war’s over,” Culp added later. “It just means that we’re not going to engage in this particular battle through the courts.”

In a videotaped segment shown during the event, Pidgeon said the lawsuit had to be dropped due to “technicalities.” He said the campaign would “leave this battleground now, and instead bring our case for election reform to you and the court of public opinion.”

Pidgeon may still face consequences for filing a lawsuit filled with false and unsubstantiated claims.

The state Democratic Party announced Friday it had filed a complaint with the state bar association against Pidgeon, arguing he should be disciplined for violating several professional-conduct standards for attorneys.

“Dr. Pidgeon’s frivolous complaints constitute nothing more than a desperate and legally unjustifiable attempt to undermine the electoral process on behalf of his defeated client,” said the complaint filed by attorneys Dmitri Iglitzin and Gabe Frumkin.

Pidgeon was paid $50,000 by the Culp campaign for his legal efforts, according to filings with the state Public Disclosure Commission.

He is a far-right conspiracy theorist who has worked on conservative political causes, including challenging Inslee’s COVID-19 restrictions. Pidgeon, who ran for Attorney General in 2012, also has spread discredited theories that President Barack Obama was a secret Muslim who intended to impose an Islamic caliphate in the United States.

The state Republican Party did not back the Culp lawsuit and state GOP Chairman Caleb Heimlich has defended the integrity of the election overseen by Wyman, the state’s sole remaining statewide Republican elected official.

Culp and his campaign manager, Chris Gergen, have launched a new political-action committee, New Patriot PAC. Gergen said the PAC will fight to win local races and work to “clean house” within the Republican Party.

The PAC is registered to an address in Las Vegas, where Gergen moved after the election.