Super PACs spend record $1 million in Wyo’s U.S. House race

WYOMING -- Super PACs have spent over $1 million on Wyoming’s high-profile U.S. House of Representatives race — more than doubling the previous record for the state, according to Federal Elections Commission filings. Most of that spending has been in opposition to incumbent Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, or in support of her main primary challenger, Donald Trump-endorsed Harriet Hageman. 

Super PACs cannot directly coordinate or donate to political candidates or parties. They can, however, raise and spend unlimited funds to overtly advocate for or against candidates. While super PAC money still trails both Cheney and Hageman’s fundraising, the increased cash flow is indicative of keen interest in the race.

Super PACs are not to be confused with traditional political action committees, which have limits on how much they can raise and spend. 

Technically known as independent expenditure only political committees, super PACs may receive unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations, unions and other groups. Super PACs are also relatively new to the political scene, ushered in by two 2010 court decisions, including Citizens United. Since then, Super PAC spending has steadily increased in Wyoming. 

A decade ago, Super PACs spent about $46,000 in Wyoming, according to FEC records. That amount more than tripled for the next election, in 2014, when Cheney challenged incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi. Most of that money was spent in opposition to Cheney, including $155,000 by Florida-based American Principles Fund on an advertisement criticizing her support for government benefits for same-sex couples. 

Super PAC spending in Wyoming shot up to $423,000 in 2018, according to FEC records. Most of that was also spent either against Cheney or in support of her opponents. 

As super PAC spending increases in Wyoming, so will outside influence on elections and public policy, according to Sarah Bryner, director of research and strategy for Open Secrets. The DC-based non-profit tracks campaign finance data. 

Outside groups spending millions to influence voters can shift the focus of a statewide election to national politics, according to Bryner. 

“You can have a race take on a [different] dynamic,” Bryner said, “It really can change the messages that voters hear and the sort of ways that issues are prioritized in the dialogue.” 

A single donor behind a super PAC, Bryner said, can single-handedly change both the conversation around an election and ultimately, the outcome. 

Wyoming Values, a Georgia-based super PAC, is responsible for more than half of the super PAC spending in Wyoming for the 2022 election. The group has dropped over $560,000 on billboards and TV and radio advertisements in Wyoming. One of those ads features Donald Trump Jr. endorsing Hageman. Trump Jr. also serves as honorary chairman of Wyoming Values, according to a May press release from the super PAC. The organization did not respond to WyoFile’s request for comment. 

Wyoming Values has raised $706,000 since it launched in September, according to its latest FEC filings. Most has come from Wyoming donors, including Lynn Friess who gave $300,000 in March. Friess is the widow of former Republican gubernatorial candidate and GOP mega-donor, Foster Friess. 

Other donors to Wyoming Values include Ron McMurry, a prominent Casper businessman, and Dan Starks, founder of the National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois. McMurry donated $100,000 in January, Starks $50,000 in December of 2021. 

Another $50,000 came from Snow Goose, LLC, which is a limited liability company based in Casper, according to filings with the secretary of state’s office. Because the company uses a registered agent service, the identity of its membership is not public record. Additionally, two Florida-based LLCs donated a combined $15,000 to Wyoming Values. 

Trailing Wyoming Values in spending on the race is Protect Wyoming Values, which spent over $121,000 in support of State Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, who is no longer in the race.

Protect Wyoming Values raised $200,00 from a single donor — Jan Charles Gray, Chuck Gray’s father. The super PAC shuttered in March after filing for termination with the FEC. Gray suspended his federal campaign last September, and has recently filed to run for Wyoming’s secretary of state. 

Priorities USA Action, the largest Democratic Party super PAC, spent money on ads featuring Hageman. In January, it spent about $9,600 on two TV ads, according to FEC filings, opposing Hageman and other Trump-endorsed congressional candidates. 

While neither of the ads aired in Wyoming, according to Aneesa McMillan from Priorities USA Action, the group included Wyoming in its FEC filings because the ads featured a Wyoming candidate.

Other super PACs spending in Wyoming include House Freedom Action, Protect Freedom Political Action Committee, Club for Growth Action and America Strong PAC, INC.

Combined, they have spent more than $330,000. 

The primary election is Aug. 16. 

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.