Gov. Mark Gordon and U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis are headlining a $1,000-per-plate fundraiser for South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem in Cheyenne later this month.
The fundraiser, coordinated by Michigan-based Republican consultants the Templar Baker Group, features former candidates for the Wyoming statehouse, agriculture leaders and other high-profile political figures. It comes as Noem has been floated as a potential candidate for the Republican Party’s 2024 nomination for president.
A representative for Gordon said Noem’s campaign approached him initially, asking Gordon whether he would co-sponsor the reception, and he accepted. Gordon did not request help from Noem for his upcoming re-election campaign, according to his campaign representative Gail Geringer, though he would “certainly welcome it when the time comes,” she wrote in a statement.
Representatives for Lummis did not return a request for comment.
Though some of the guests — like Wyoming rancher Dave Berry — are well-established in state politics, others are relatively unknown. One of the organizers of the event, Casper-area small business owner Leah Juarez, was a promising statehouse candidate in last year’s Republican primaries.
The event will largely be focused on agricultural interests, Juarez said, and the South Dakota connection is meant as a way for Wyoming’s political class to build relationships that extend beyond state lines.
“Wyoming just does not have the same political network structure that any other state has,” Juarez said. “In Wyoming, we know that when we go to the polling place and vote, it’s pretty heavily Republican every time. So we just dismiss [the need for those networks]. But in other states, [Republican organizations] are very well connected and very well structured.”
While that goal involves giving guests a chance to connect with Noem, Juarez said the fundraiser was also inspired by a coalition she is a part of that is currently looking to defeat incumbent Congresswoman Liz Cheney in next year’s Republican primaries.
“This fundraiser is not for [opposing Cheney], I want to be clear on that,” Juarez said. “I came into contact with some really great people who can do some really great things as far as introducing bigger names to each other. And so we kind of jumped up on the opportunity to do so here in Cheyenne.”
Gordon’s team said the governor was unaware of the event’s ties to anti-Cheney groups.
One of the fundraiser’s marquee guests is Trump administration alum Catharine O’Neill, who some speculate to be a potential challenger to Cheney next year.
O’Neill — an heir to the Rockefeller fortune and daughter of conservative influencer George O’Neill Jr. — has family ties to Wyoming dating back generations, and has claimed to be a longtime Wyoming landowner in press interviews.
She was relatively unknown in the state during her time in the administration of former President Donald Trump, however. She worked as an official with the U.S. Department of State before taking a role as White House liaison to the USAID. O’Neill previously worked for the Trump campaign as executive director of Catholics for Trump. Prior news reports have tied her almost exclusively to Florida, where she developed a reputation as a socialite.
Now a contributor for the conservative website Newsmax and a regular on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast, O’Neill has been making inroads into Wyoming. She recently purchased an operating feedlot in Wheatland, and has attended events like the annual Wyoming Stockgrowers’ Association Convention.
O’Neill was also at an anti-Cheney rally this winter headlined by Congressman Matt Gaetz, a political ally, and did a standup with Bannon’s “Pandemic War Room” program. Her appearance on the show, documented by a spokesperson for Congressional candidate Anthony Bouchard at the rally, no longer appears on the show’s website.
In January, an LLC was formed with the Wyoming Secretary of State called “Catharine O’Neill for Congress,” which according to public records was founded through a Sheridan-based registered agent. The LLC was quickly dissolved, and it remains unclear whether O’Neill had a role in its founding.
O’Neill has also met with numerous players in Wyoming politics in recent months.
Trump plans to meet with a number of challengers to Cheney in Bedminster, New Jersey next week, he wrote in a statement earlier this week, though it is unclear who received the invitation of the former president. Wyoming State Sen. Anthony Bouchard — the top fundraiser among Cheney’s challengers — was not invited to meet with Trump, according to his campaign. State Rep. Chuck Gray and Cheyenne attorney Darin Smith have all publicly acknowledged invitations in recent days.
O’Neill did not return a request for comment.