The Federal Elections Commission fined the Wyoming Republican Party $52,000 for a campaign finance violation stemming from former President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, according to campaign finance records and interviews with party officials.
In March, the Wyoming Republican Party paid the FEC $52,000 for an unspecified campaign finance violation, according to campaign finance records. The same day, the Republican National Committee transferred $52,000 to the Wyoming GOP to cover the cost, and “not one penny” of state funds was used, according to former state party chairman Matt Micheli.
Micheli said the violation occurred during the runup to the 2016 presidential election. A miscommunication between the Wyoming GOP’s accountant and the Trump campaign, Micheli said, resulted in the party failing to report a significant monetary transfer between the campaign and the party until after the election.
Neither Micheli nor the party’s treasurer at the time, Doug Chamberlain, was aware that any wrongdoing occurred, Micheli said.
“In 2016 the Wyoming Republican Party was doing everything we could to help Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton,” Micheli wrote in a text message to WyoFile. “As part of that effort, we signed a joint fundraising agreement with the (Republican National Committee) and the Trump Campaign along with essentially every other state party in the country. There was absolutely nothing illegal or untoward about the arrangement.”
The problem, Micheli said, came when the state party’s accountant missed a filing deadline to report funds the Trump Campaign funneled to it. That oversight was the result of a missed email, Micheli said.
“The report was fixed and the amount reported, but it did miss a deadline,” Micheli’s statement said. “The State Party has worked with the RNC and the FEC throughout the entire process.”
At the time, he said, the Wyoming Republican Party joined state parties in more than three dozen states to facilitate cash transfers between Trump’s PAC, “Trump Victory,” and the RNC. Such transfers are commonplace in Democratic and Republican politics, according to Brendan Fischer, the director of the Campaign Legal Center’s Federal Reform Program in Washington D.C.
Campaign finance reports show the Wyoming GOP shuttling hundreds of thousands of dollars between the “Trump Victory” PAC and the RNC over the course of the 2020 election cycle.
With a fundraising deadline approaching back in 2016, the Trump campaign requested an expedited transfer, Micheli said. That transfer went unreported after a miscommunication between Micheli and a third-party accountant working out of Salt Lake City, he said.
The transfer was later accounted for on an amendment after the election, Micheli said, but it was too late and prompted a penalty.
Fischer described the fine as “significant” and believes it to be isolated to the Wyoming GOP.
“Just about every state GOP was part of Trump Victory, but only the Wyoming GOP reported an FEC settlement payment, which suggests that whatever the matter is was unique to the Wyoming GOP,” Fischer said.
Wyoming GOP Chairman Frank Eathorne and Executive Director Kathy Russell did not respond to a request for comment.
Officials with the FEC declined to comment on details of the case, citing an ongoing legal matter.
“Civil penalties for Commission enforcement actions may vary, and each matter is considered by the Commission on a case-by-case basis,” FEC spokesman Myles Martin wrote in an email.”
The penalty would likely have decimated the party’s federal account, which primarily serves as a conduit for the RNC and to pay for party leadership’s food and lodging on party business. In the first quarter of 2021, the Wyoming GOP reported just over $30,000 in income, well below the $48,000 in operating expenditures it reported during that same period, according to campaign finance reports. Two-thirds of the party’s income this quarter came from two individuals: Teton County donors Dan and Carleen Brophy.
In recent weeks, the party has been frustrated with federal candidates like Wyoming Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, for siphoning donations that “should have been going to WYGOP,” according to Wyoming GOP Secretary and Bouchard spokesperson April Poley.
“The party was pissed that Anthony had raised $125,000 in a week,” Poley wrote in a Facebook post she forwarded to WyoFile. “It takes WYGOP pretty much a year to raise that much money. Let’s not forget that WYGOP is in the midst of several lawsuits brought against them for impropriety. They’re desperate for money.”
Though the party’s fundraising improved in 2020, overall it has fallen short of expectations. According to a financial report presented to the Campbell County GOP by its state committeeman, Tom Lubnau, in March, the party experienced an operating loss of more than $9,000 from July 2019 through February 2021 in its state accounts.
According to Lubnau, the party’s 2019-2021 biennium budget anticipated $716,000 in revenue, only to fall nearly $323,000 short of the projected income.
Throughout that period, the party also spent nearly $8,200 in legal fees, Lubnau wrote, including nearly $5,000 to defend a lawsuit filed by the Natrona County Republican Party over voting irregularities at last year’s Wyoming Republican Convention in Gillette.
“The state party is aggressively defending that lawsuit,” Lubnau noted in his presentation.
An updated financial report will likely be presented at the Wyoming Republican Party’s State Central Committee meeting in Cody this weekend.
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