(Eda Uzunlar)

When Susan Gore arrived in Wyoming more than two decades ago, the heir to the Gore-Tex fortune was a minor player in the state’s politics.

Campaign finance documents show limited involvement in Wyoming politics until the late 2000s. Even then, her influence was fairly narrow, and her contributions hewed closely to the policy agenda espoused by Wyoming Liberty Group — the Libertarian-leaning think tank she founded in 2008.

Campaign finances records, however, show Gore’s spending grew dramatically over time. By 2020 she had become a key financier of far-right causes and candidates. Some credit her contributions, at least in part, with last year’s hard-right turn in the Wyoming Legislature. 

WyoFile examined nearly two decades of campaign finance records to chart the evolution of Gore’s giving and parse its impact on Wyoming politics.

Early involvement

Federal campaign finance records suggest Gore began making political contributions in the 2004 election cycle.

Susan Gore of Cheyenne founded the Wyoming Liberty Group and Republic Free Choice. (Courtesy Wyoming Liberty Group)

According to FEC records reviewed by WyoFile, Gore contributed a combined $5,500 from June 2003 through late 2004. All of that money, donor records show, went to support Libertarians. That included $3,500 to support the national party and another $2,000 to support the party’s then-presidential candidate, Michael Badnarik. Badnarik ultimately garnered less than one-third of a percentage point of the popular vote nationwide.

For the next several years, Gore’s activity was relatively limited. After the 2004 election she gave the Libertarian National Committee just $1,750, and contributed $2,500 to Badnarik’s congressional run in Texas. 

It wouldn’t be until 2007, when former Texas Congressman Ron Paul entered the presidential fray, that Gore would begin to step up her political contributions. Between Paul’s presidential campaign and congressional campaign, Gore donated $4,300.

The 2008 election marked another significant milestone: Gore’s entry into Wyoming politics.

The Wyoming Liberty Group, founded by Susan Gore, began with $313,000. Over time, the organization’s receipts eclipsed $1 million annually, reaching nearly $1.7 million in 2017. (Graphic: Eda Uzunlar)

That year, campaign finance records show Gore contributed $7,500 to the Wyoming Republican Party. That placed her among the top donors to the party’s federal account as Democrat Gary Trauner challenged Cynthia Lummis in that year’s open U.S. House race. (Current U.S. Sen. Lummis won that race handily.)

Gore also contributed $2,300 to Lummis’ campaign as an individual, and $500 to current Gov. Mark Gordon, whom Lummis defeated in that year’s primaries.

Wyoming focus

In 2008, Gore founded the Wyoming Liberty Group, a libertarian-leaning policy and advocacy organization which according to tax forms began with $313,000 in financial backing.

While tax forms do not list the names of the Liberty Group’s donors, Gore was the sole individual listed as a contributor in 2009 tax documents making contributions “in order to get the organization started” while staff worked to increase outside contributions.

Over time, the organization’s revenues — with Gore’s support — continued to grow.

In 2009, the Wyoming Liberty Group reported more than $733,000 in gross receipts. The following year, the organization reported more than $1.25 million. Between 2011 and 2019, the Wyoming Liberty Group would report gross receipts of more than $10 million, reaching a peak of $1.679 million in 2016. Much of that money, according to IRS documents, came from Gore. Between 2008 and 2012, Gore (and another unlisted donor) provided more than 75% of the group’s funding.

In 2012, Gore gave $500,000 to presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s “Red White and Blue Fund,” establishing herself as a power player in conservative politics nationally.

Gore stepped up her investment in Wyoming state politics in 2010. 

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In that year’s crowded Republican gubernatorial primary, Gore contributed a combined $2,500 to three different Republican candidates for governor, $2,000 to Tea Party-backed candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction, Cindy Hill, and $1,000 to State Senate candidate Leslie Nutting, a Cheyenne Republican who also counted support from the hardline conservative watchdog organization WyWatch. Gore also gave nearly $3,000 to the Wyoming Republican Party that cycle.

Over time, Gore’s financial stake in Wyoming politics would continue to grow. Tallying just $5,500 in in-state candidate contributions in 2010, Gore would up the total to $7,000 in 2012, with all of the funds going toward hardline conservative candidates in individual statehouse races. These included Cheyenne Sen. Lynn Hutchings, Casper Republicans Steve Bray and Bob Brechtel and Thermopolis State Rep. Nathan Winters, who now leads the evangelical advocacy organization, Wyoming Family Policy Alliance.

Some of Gore’s support was indirect, funnelled through an affiliated non-profit she established in 2012 called Republic Free Choice, which is still active. The organization reported $358,000 in receipts in its first year, according to tax documents. Over time, the organization’s revenues would increase significantly and, in 2014, it began distributing direct mail campaigns appearing to back certain candidates in competitive Republican primaries around Wyoming. (Republic Free Choice was never required to disclose its donors in that race.)

To this day, little is known about who is funding Republic Free Choice, which in recent months has shifted its focus to opposing  legalization of marijuana in Wyoming.

Growth into mega donor

As the Wyoming Liberty Group’s revenues began to see an uptick in 2014. Gore’s giving also began to escalate. That year, she doled out more than $17,000 to hardline candidates for the Wyoming statehouse and the executive branch — enough to make her one of Wyoming’s biggest political donors, according to campaign finance reports.

2014 was also the year Gore joined the ranks of a political donor class described by the Sunlight Foundation at the time as the top “one percent” of political donors. That year, Gore contributed nearly twice the U.S. median household income to a variety of conservative causes. Nearly $77,000 went to the Republican National Congressional Committee, while candidates like Liz Cheney ($5,200), Lummis ($2,600) and the GOP rising star Cathy McMorris Rodgers ($4,200) were key beneficiaries of Gore’s contributions that year.

Over time, Susan Gore grew from a relatively minor political donor to a major player in state and federal politics. The Sunlight Foundation described donors of her scale as the “top one percent” of political donors nationwide. (Graphic: Eda Uzunlar)

Gore continued her high levels of spending in the lead-up to the 2016 elections, donating more than $87,000 to a variety of federal candidates, including then-presidential-candidate Donald Trump. In 2018, Gore  poured more than $130,000 into Wyoming’s elections, with funds supporting Republicans in a dozen statehouse races, the race for Wyoming state auditor and for state treasurer.

The biggest donation — $100,000 — went to a PAC supporting Cheyenne businessman Sam Galeotos in his gubernatorial bid, according to campaign records, while another $6,500 shored up the coffers of the Wyoming Republican Party.  

Bankrolling ulta-conservative candidates

Of the more than $72,000 Gore spent in the 2020 campaign cycle, more than half went to support hard-right statehouse candidates in 22 competitive primaries around Wyoming.

Gore-backed candidates ultimately won 10 of the 22 races she’d funded.

Several candidates, like Troy McKeown, John Bear and Anthony Bouchard, received additional support from other donors. However, for many of the candidates she backed, campaign finance reports show Gore as the primary benefactor.

Nearly one-dozen candidates in the 2020 Republican Primaries relied on Gore for at least one-fifth of their campaign’s total fundraising. Several candidates funded at least half of their primary campaigns with money from Gore. (Graphic: Eda Uzunlar)

Out of the 22 candidates Gore contributed to in the 2020 primaries, half relied on her support for at least one-fifth of their total fundraising. Her support comprised half of the campaign totals for four of those candidates. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a graphic with incorrect data on the percentage of total donations Wyoming State Rep. John Winter received from Susan Gore in the 2020 Republican primaries. The graphic has been updated. -Ed.

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  1. I am disappointed in the article. I have always wanted WyoFile to do a in depth Campaign Finance report, perhaps a multipart series. This “article” simply singles out a single donor and then it becomes a hit piece on a single citizen riddled with errors and LARGE omissions.

    Let me illustrate the errors. Consider the errors in the graphic of the percent of donations from Susan Gore to select candidates. Nick Reynolds picked the candidates that did not raise a lot of money, inflating the percentage of funding by Gore. Let us look at HD-37, Paul Flesvig. Now when I pick up the phone and call Greg Flesvig, he usually answers the phone with his first name. I am not sure why the graphic uses his middle name, but what the heck? Get the name right. Second, Greg took in four donations. Susan Gore ($1500), Carleen Brophy ($1500), William Doenz ($1500) and Amy Schicketanz ($1000) all donated for a total of $5500. Susan Gore’s Donation is 1500/5500 or 27% of the total donations, not the 33% indicated on the graphic. This is bad, considering that a correction on the graphic for math errors had been done by the editor. Probably should have downloaded the Secretary of State file on each race and done the math on them all.

    Now let us examine the omissions. Nick Reynolds could have written the same piece on Carleen Brophy, or William Doenz by simply search and replace names. In fact, we often have donors to campaigns that are well off and they are omitted. There are establishment donors, liberal donors, and a whole host of different donors that are well off donating to the full spectrum of candidates. Susan Gore was clearly singled out for this “article”. The real stories are not one sided like this one. HD-37 had Greg Flesvig as a challenger to incumbent Steve Harshman. Flesvig was entirely funded by citizens. Harshman, not so much. He had two citizens donate to his campaign, both donating $100. Harshman’s campaign received $8875. That means that Mr. Harshman was funded 2.25% from citizens and over 97% by PAC money interested in specific legislation. Talk about puppet strings.

    Nick Reynolds mentions that Susan Gore gave $100,000 to a PAC supporting Sam Galeotos in 2018. Others have given large PAC donations to support a candidate or a slate of candidates. Reynolds should ask the question about if this practice is legal? He mentions the donation but gives it scant attention. Giving a candidate a donation of $100,000 through a PAC should raise eyebrows. Using a PAC to bypass personal contribution limits is a problem that has been growing in recent years and, if this is an article that purports to look at influence in politics, it is an omission that should be explored. The legislature has considered this issue and put teeth into the law to prevent the practice of donating large amounts of money to a candidate. Wyoming Statute 22-25-102 recognized the problem and stated “The amount of penalty imposed shall be in such amount as will deter future actions of a similar nature.” Yet, there are numerous instances where large donations were delivered to a candidate using a PAC to bypass limits.

    There is a lot of opportunity for influence to be exerted on elected officials here in Wyoming. This “article” could have really done some good but failed to examine the landscape of campaign money in politics. Instead it sought to go after a citizen who is political. That is her right and her voice. To single out Susan Gore was inappropriate.

  2. My complements to Wyofile.
    This is a touchy subject but opposing views are being posted. This is exactly the kind of forum we need to encourage discussion. This is coming from an ex democrat.
    Thank you!

  3. Excellent reporting. LOVE the illustration at the top of the article. A graphic depiction of this manipulation of our politics snd culture. Thank you.

  4. Unless your going to support the McCain/Feinberg act which was designed to limit contributions to candidates, especially by corporations, than this piece is a nothing burger! The hands and puppet strings picture at the top of the article is designed to illicit some type of outrage you want us to feel towards libertarians and conservatives. The writer knows better than anyone that both parties garner influence through money. Don’t be so petty or discriminatory. This story lacked balance and objectivity. Conservatives are the only ones keeping your great state above the the cess pool of blue states right now. Is it perfect. Nope. I live in Colorado and our Democratic representatives here are destroying our state because places like Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins have to much say in our political theater and it’s destroying rural Colorado. Freedom here is being quickly replaced by overreaching government authority. It’s worse every year. So much so that we are weighing moving to Wyoming to experience freedom and what this nation once stood for. We won’t be moving to Jackson though because Californians and Democrats already have sunk their tendrils in there. Wyoming being Californicated would be a very bad thing. Next time make sure your story has some balance and objectivity. If your left leaning out in your bio.

    1. Where have you been Mr Beard? In 2010 the McCain Feingold Act was destroyed by the Supreme Court in their Citizens United decision. The argument for allowing corporations unlimited spending in our elections, was in part crafted by a Wyoming Liberty Group attorney. Yeah, it would be great if this kind of influence did not occur, be it from Ds or Rs, but it does, and only a constitutional amendment can override a SC decision. So please, take any action necessary to further the cause of seeing an amendment passed!!

    2. Amen!! Thank You for your comment. We all know of the hypocrisy of the democrats, and liberals. Why don’t we ask this biased reporter how much donars like big Tech,, media and the Chinese Communist Govt. and George Soros give to the Democrats!
      Thank you,
      Tim

      1. Oh please! I may be one of 3 or 4 people in Wyoming who donates to the state’s Democratic Party. Please, please get over your anti-something dislike of George Soros–he has nothing on Peter Thiel, who arguably has done far more to destroy my country to enhance his bottom line!

    3. Wyoming is nothing like the nation used to stand for. It’s run by a bunch of rightwing hillbillies and wealthy one percenters. I’ve lived here my whole life, and the political climate has degraded immensely. Even the middle of the road Republican is scared to death of the orange menace. Please don’t move here if you’re one of them.

  5. I will make a point of Never purchasing Anything with goretex and spread information that to my acquaintances.

  6. Will we see a piece about Liz Storer and Better Wyoming?
    Ron Paul was a good candidate, torpedoed by crooked media and crooked politicians.
    Clearly Gore made some poor choices but some good ones as well. Her position on legalization is out of step with Dr Paul and the electorate.
    Are we allowed to voice similar criticism of Democrat donors?

    1. Hello Bob, Let me know when there is a counterweight to the right wing radio that pervades Wyoming?

      If you look at campaign donations across the State, there are absolutely zero mega-donors on the left, none, nada zip, but somehow it has to be both sides? Get some perspective as the Storer’s are funding information like Wyofile or moderates that actually can speak on issues that are far more important to Wyoming’s future than god, guns or babies.

      If you have watched the legislature long enough, you would have been able to see that each and every one of the candidates that Gore backed and won were far worse than those she helped replace.. In fact Moorcroft is the poster child for this phenomenon as Tyler Lindholm towers over Chip Neiman in more ways than one.

      If you think the media destroyed the Ron Paul, I see little hope in your search for objectivity but I have the audacity of hope.

      1. Hi Greg,
        Most people listen to music on the radio. Although it would be nice to know a station in my area that is playing Dan Bongino or Alex Jones. I’d mix up my listening. Since you’re on top of that let me know.
        I would expect with an electorate that is 75% Republican that the majority of donations would be on the conservative side. That just makes sense.
        That said, we certainly have more than our share of left wing media attempting to modify our perception. Every newspaper and website repeats national stories with a leftist view. Wyofile is having stories picked up by local papers as well.
        That is fine so long as we have open comments like this where the people can voice their opinions.
        National players are directly involved in our politics. Cheney is a left wing darling. She is getting funding from the seedy side of the Republican Party and support from the left wing media and the Democrat party. Liz Storer certainly has an opinion and so does Wyofile. And opinions like that cost money.
        God,guns, babies. Hmmm. If I replied to that frankly and honestly the moderator would delete my post. Not because it is out of line. But because it paints the picture that most conservatives already know, and most Democrats are intent to hide. But thanks for dropping the hint. That’s enough.
        As to Ron Paul… He cared about our Liberty. He was hated by the establishment. He was treated like a leper by the media and you bought it hook line and sinker.
        Now the laws only apply to certain people. The media blames white people for every crime regardless of who is involved. Schools teach racism to children. And wars are starting up again all over. Your utopia has arrived. Congratulations.
        Hope this post sees daylight.

        1. “Hope this post sees daylight.”

          It saw daylight and it was illuminating but not enlightening as it says it exactly whom you are and the inherent bias that you have cemented in to your world view.

          The idea that any mainstream publication is leftist or liberal is a talking point and not fact. Every right winger cites the NYTimes as a liberal paper. Ha its a corporate rag just like the WSJ, (I call it the NYT the Manhattan Enquirer) but with a center right opinion page unlike the right wing opinion side of the WSJ. I will admit it takes a shrewd reader to discern these nuances in the media. For instance let me know when any media outlet advocates for ending the Drug War, as big pharma makes the NRA look like pikers in the control of Congress and the media narrative.

          What conservatives are intent to hide is their embrace of one half of the #2A, in support of gun rights, while absolutely trashing the #4a with their ludicrous idea that they or the State has a right to peak under a dress to see if one is pregnant. The Constitution has its flaws but it is a far more humane document than the Bible or Quran and American Citizens should embrace it.

          1. Brother, you are blaming the chickens for the actions of the fox.
            WSJ and NYT are garbage establishment propaganda, along with most all media. They want big government and big pharma and no liberty for the little guy. They supported Hillary and Biden. All major corporations are supporting BLM and the democrats. Any one that deviates is labeled a nut job. Where the heck do you get your ideas? What you are saying is exactly the opposite of reality. This is why democrats are impossible to talk to seriously because you all sound like you are high and not playing with a full deck.
            The so called alt media, which actually represents the majority view, has called endlessly to stop the drug war, which is unconstitutional
            Ron Paul, Alex Jones, Joe Rogan, Tucker Carlson, Roger Stone, and many others have held that position for years. The left wing mockingbird media knows that billions in drug money are floating wall street and wall street floats covert ops and establishment politicians like Biden.
            Those same corporations hate Trump and personal liberty.
            Conservatives want the government to leave us alone. Democrats and Rinos want the NSA to read your emails and look under your dress. We could care less what you do in your own home, but your heroes want to knock on my door and tell me how to live.
            Stop blaming the good people for what you vote for.
            Grow up.

          2. “Conservatives want the government to leave us alone. Democrats and Rinos want the NSA to read your emails and look under your dress.”

            Conservatives want to leave you alone? So compare the Drug War stance in Wyoming versus Colorado or California. Then compare the right to privacy as Wyoming will peek under your dress to make you have a baby when its not my or the states business.

            Ha Ha you have really studied FISA? As soon as you catch up, come back and discuss.

            https://www.emptywheel.net/?s=FISA

            “We need to get back to the true liberalism of our youth. But, after all, that is what the conservative movement really is. Respect individual liberty, live and let live. Don’t press your beliefs upon others.”

            Yes we were a far better country when we held more socialist views as the Golden Age was when America taxed top earners and inheritance. Now Republicans want to force religion down our throats.

            “Because living in California and going to public school teaches you to be that way. ”

            So you were indoctrinated and you believe it can happen, so forcing children to learn that a magician created the universe and set down rules to live forever, in spite of all the evidence against it is not indoctrination. I was reared Southern Baptist, but I read enough and studied to find that Religion is the Big Lie.

            I believed in the Conservatism of John McCain but not of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush.

            So you cite all right wing grifters as proof of your reading….That is funny.

        2. Again, right on. I really get tired of reading over and over again the repeated liberal big city and populous state’s views on every issue in the Jackson papers. . This online venue is one of the only places we can read the other sides, the conservatives, true Wyomingite’s views. Liberals believe their rights are the only ones to be honored. If you don’t believe the same way they do, you are automatically wrong.

          1. It’s funny how I used to be a liberal. Why?
            Because living in California and going to public school teaches you to be that way. I had a conservative friend but we all laughed at his eccentric beliefs. But something happened as I grew older. I read more books. I realized the TV makes people stupid. I realized that a lot of people do not think for themselves. I saw my life having no meaning.
            I also realized that being materialistic and arrogant is an empty lifestyle. These people actually worry about what the neighbors think more than they do about being principled and consistent. I was never fully comfortable in that mindset. I had my nice car for business meetings. But I had my old truck to get things done.
            Over time I realized that selfish people really bugged me. The more they brag about being enlightened (woke is the current term) the more materialistic and self centered they turned out to be.
            We came to Wyoming for a fresh start. We walk amongst the trees and talk about where things may be going. I must say that there was a time when liberals were this way. Back in the 80s you could enjoy philosophical conversations. You could disagree and still be friends. In the 90s things began to change. By the 2000s you had to watch what you said. Now the government is telling people to snitch on each other in true Orwellian fashion.
            We need to get back to the true liberalism of our youth. But, after all, that is what the conservative movement really is. Respect individual liberty, live and let live. Don’t press your beliefs upon others. How this became conservative thought boils down to one thing… the left has changed drastically in the last 40 years. They have gone off the deep end, while we still maintain the simple view of life we held in our youth.
            My two cents.

          2. this reply is for the comment below:

            you believe in Q. you believe a pillow salesman has more legal knowledge than 60+ courts. you believe in conspiracies that have no foundation in reality or fact.

            you can profess your knowledge or “free” thinker attributes all you want. But in the end, you’re just a Q anon believer that has an unhealthy victim mentality and too much time on his hands to surf the intrawebz

            I look forward to your 1500 word response detailing how you kissed or dated someone that prepared you for a situation just as this.

            cheers

          3. I am replying to your message on this thread because the two people making direct and dishonest comments about me have no reply option available.
            Odd, huh?
            These typical ad hominem attacks just show the world what decent people are dealing with. Q was a scam run by the deep state. John McCain funded ISIS to destabilize Syria. He was a very destructive man. These people are making comments that represent viewpoints that are antithetical to an educated and moral democracy.
            They cannot comprehend an open minded true liberal philosophy, and frankly the tone rings of envy. Too much absorbed hostility and years of false impressions of reality have left them without a compass. Just attack attack attack. Everything looks like a nail. So beat it down with a hammer of slogans and rhetorical gimmicks. Never try to understand the other side. Even if that person was once on yours. This is what happens every time a conservative enters discourse on line. Attack attack attack. Let the readers see how these people conduct themselves. I’m done sharing on this thread. It’s damn depressing.

          4. RE Bob:

            you aren’t able to reply after a certain amount of messages because it would mess the format up for those who read wyofile on a mobile device. Wyofile is NOT out to “get” you.

            But thank you for proving my point about your victim mentality.