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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Martin Pengelly in New York

Mike Lindell ordered to pay $5m to man who debunked data used to push big lie

Mike Lindell on 4 April 2023 in Palm Beach, Florida.
Mike Lindell on 4 April 2023 in Palm Beach, Florida. Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Mike Lindell must make good on a promise and pay $5m to a software expert who debunked data the conspiracy theorist touted in advancing Donald Trump’s lie that his 2020 election defeat was the result of voting fraud, an arbitration panel decided.

In its decision, the panel said: “The data Lindell LLC provided, and represented reflected information from the November 2020 election, unequivocally did not reflect November 2020 election data.”

Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in 2020 was conclusive: by more than 7m votes and a clear margin in the electoral college.

But Lindell, chief executive of MyPillow, has spent millions in support of Trump’s lie.

He announced his “Prove Mike Wrong Challenge” at a “cyber symposium” in South Dakota in 2021, saying he would give $5m to anyone who could disprove what he claimed was genuine election data he had obtained.

On Thursday, CNN quoted from a deposition in which Lindell said: “The symposium was to get the big audience and have all the media there and … the cyber guys saying, ‘Yes this data is from the 2020 election and you better look at how they intruded into our machines, our computers,’ and that was the whole purpose.”

If he put up $5m, he said, “it would get news, which it did”.

On Wednesday, a panel of the American Arbitration Association ruled in a dispute between Lindell and Robert Zeidman, an expert who took up the challenge.

Based on its analysis, the panel said, “Mr Zeidman performed under the contract … Failure to pay Mr Zeidman the $5m prized was a breach of the contract, entitling him to recover.”

An attorney for Zeidman, Brian Glasser, told CNN: “The lawsuit and verdict mark another important moment in the ongoing proof that the 2020 election was legal and valid, and the role of cybersecurity in ensuring that integrity.

“Lindell’s claim to have 2020 election data has been definitively disproved.”

Lindell used “a brief phone interview” with CNN to “slam the media and profess the need to get rid of electronic voting machines”. He also said the arbitration decision would “end up in court”.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, Virginia, told the Guardian: “The contest rules provided in the arbitration stated that disputes were to be ‘resolved exclusively by final and binding arbitration’ and observed that arbitration ‘is subject to very limited review by courts’. Thus, Lindell cannot directly appeal the arbitration panel ruling to a court.

“Lindell can request that a federal court nullify the decision, if he can show that it reflected ‘manifest injustice’. Nevertheless, federal courts rarely rule that litigants satisfy that exceedingly high standard.”

Lindell already faces lawsuits arising from his claims about electoral fraud, including a $1.3bn suit from Dominion Voter Systems, which this week reached a $787.5m settlement with Fox Corp over its broadcast of election-related lies.

Lindell’s counter-suits against Dominion and another voting machine company, Smartmatic, were dismissed by a judge as “frivolous” and “groundless”.

On Thursday, the law professor and former White House ethics tsar Richard Painter said: “Pay up, Pillow Man. People who don’t believe in objective truth are being told to write some big checks this week, and you’ll be one of them.”

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