Michael Watson speaks during the Neshoba County Fair Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Secretary of State Michael Watson issued a consent order and fined “Defending the Republic,” a nonprofit run by former Donald Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, for making false statements to solicit funds in Mississippi.

Texas-based DTR and Powell have come under federal and other states’ scrutiny after the group raised nearly $15 million primarily using baseless claims about the 2020 presidential election being stolen. Powell could face further problems in Florida — where she was also cited for using deceptive solicitations — for failing to report the Mississippi action.

Powell is facing questions about how much money DTR had solicited and where the money was going. According to the Washington Post, many members of DTR’s staff and board resigned in April, and in early December federal prosecutors subpoenaed financial documents from DTR and a PAC that Powell leads by the same name.

In June, Watson issued a cease-and-desist letter to DTR for falsely claiming it was registered with his office’s Charities Division on billboards and its website soliciting donations in Mississippi. In early December, DTR entered a consent order with Watson’s office. The group paid a $2,500 fine and is now legally registered to solicit donations in Mississippi.

Republican Watson, a Trump supporter, issued a written statement:

“After noticing a solicitation, the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office checked the charity and found it was illegally soliciting in our state in violation of the Mississippi Charitable Solicitations Act. This resulted in the imposed fine against Defending the Republic (DTR) in the amount of $2,500. In an effort to resolve the matter, DTR paid an administrative penalty and entered into a consent order providing it would comply with all of the laws regarding regulation of charitable solicitations. As always, I’m proud of my team for consistently and justly applying the law.”

Powell is a Texas lawyer who joined Trump’s legal team as it unsuccessfully attempted to prove fraud cost him the 2020 presidential election. Powell, who vowed to “release the Kraken,” a phrase from the “Clash of the Titans” movie, made claims that China, Venezuela, Cuba, Antifa, the Clinton Foundation, the late Hugo Chavez and others conspired to steal the election from Trump. None of those allegations have been found to be true.

Trump disavowed Powell after she made claims that Georgia’s Republican governor and secretary of state had been paid off to to help throw the election. Powell continued to independently file unsuccessful election lawsuits in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin.

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.