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

Wealthy conservative donor Susan Gore was a key financier of a years-long  effort to spy on Wyoming Democrats and Republicans, an article published Friday by the New York Times revealed, shining a light on the lengths to which the Gore-Tex heiress and Wyoming Liberty Group founder has gone to influence the state’s politics.

The report alleges Gore helped finance the infiltration of numerous political organizations in the state by a pair of “spies” tied to the right-wing group Project Veritas. Their targets were varied, according to the investigation, ranging from liberal advocacy group Better Wyoming and advocates of medical marijuana. Democrats and moderate Republicans within the Wyoming Legislature were also singled out, as well as the executive leadership of the Wyoming Democratic Party.

The activity even reached the office of Republican Gov. Mark Gordon, the New York Times reports. 

The Gordon Administration is conservative and transparent,” Gordon’s office said in response to the news. “The Governor’s actions have demonstrated his commitment to fiscal conservatism, life, the Second Amendment, patriotism and always putting Wyoming first. The allegations, if corroborated, of the deceptive behavior of a few politically motivated individuals contained in the New York Times’ story reflect a sad situation and have no place in Wyoming.”

The spies, a man and woman with alleged ties to Blackwater founder Erik Prince, along with Project Veritas, were largely unsuccessful in their efforts, according to several of the victims interviewed by WyoFile. However, observers say the botched incursion into the highest circles of Wyoming politics symbolize Gore’s escalating role as a puppeteer in Wyoming’s politics, and her role in the populist right’s newfound traction in Cheyenne.

“I think this was the logical progression,” former Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, said. “People like Susan arrive with all this outside money that suddenly shows up, funded by people whose ties to the state are usually its tax climate. I don’t know if they’re concerned at all about the agricultural community or coal miners, or the schools or any of the things that were traditionally issues that people in Wyoming tried to work on.”

Wyoming Liberty Group did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Karlee Provenza (D-Laramie) in the State Capitol the day of her January 2021 swearing-in ceremony. (Nate Martin/courtesy photograph)

Shock and confusion

News of the espionage operation stunned many in Wyoming politics, not only for the nature of the operation, but for its chief targets: The Wyoming Democratic Party, the high-powered liberal donor Liz Storer and the progressive advocacy group Better Wyoming and its director, Nate Martin. (Note: The George B. Storer Foundation is a major donor to WyoFile.)

“I don’t really understand why you would try and infiltrate the Democrats,” said Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander), a longtime acquaintance of Gore and a former board member for her advocacy organization, the Wyoming Liberty Group. “They’re not driving the bus in this state, you know.”

Others believe it was not the liberal groups’ activities that drew the interlopers’ attention, but a false perception of their influence by conservative groups that have grown to believe Wyoming’s Republican Party is rife with liberal politicians backed by special interest groups.

In 2019, one of the infiltrators, Sophia LaRocca, traveled to Cheyenne to meet with LGBTQ activist Sara Burlingame, then a Democratic member of the Wyoming House of Representatives. Burlingame told WyoFile LaRocca pitched her on the concept for an advocacy organization intended to “flip Wyoming blue,” an idea Burlingame told her was unrealistic. 

Burlingame detected red flags about the woman, she said. LaRocca told Burlingame she wanted to spy on Republicans, Burlingame said. LaRocca had few ties to the state and hadn’t resided here long. She also lacked a working understanding of Wyoming’s politics, Burlingame said.

“The things that they themselves were guilty of, they projected onto us, and assumed that we would also be guilty of,” Burlingame said. “But every person they talked to agreed that not only was [spying] unethical, but it was also not strategic.

“Living in the least-populated state in the union, you just couldn’t afford to do that,” Burlingame continued. “You burn through all your bridges too rapidly. But I think they had an assumption that behind a closed door, we’d drop the mask.”

Members of the Wyoming Democratic Party encountered similar red flags, noticing an overeager quality from LaRocca and inconsistent details about her life, communications director Nina Hebert said. While the party offered LaRocca training, Hebert said she and the party’s digital director limited her access to party infrastructure, leaving the party largely unexposed to her infiltration attempts.

Rep. Sara Burlingame (D-Cheyenne), at her desk on the House floor in 2020. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

LaRocca and her partner, Beau Maier, made inroads elsewhere, befriending Better Wyoming’s Martin and his wife, Wyoming Rep. Karlee Provenza (D-Laramie) through activist trainings. LaRocca even attempted to join Provenza’s campaign, the lawmaker said in an interview, only to be rejected.

Through their relationship to Martin and Provenza, Maier and LaRocca became connected to individuals who were part of a multi-partisan coalition to lobby for the legalization of medical cannabis. Gore has been a vocal opponent. Several lawmakers said they believe the effort was intended to gather intelligence on Republican lawmakers who supported legalization.

“I now look back on these conversations through a lens of rage,” Provenza wrote in a letter to her legislative colleagues sent Friday morning. “Rage because I now know that they came into my home under false pretenses to target me and my family. Rage because they attempted to bait me and my husband into saying or doing something shameful so they could use it to hurt us. Rage because they used the same tactics against some of our most honorable colleagues here in the Legislature.” 

The motivation behind the sting, some believe, stemmed from Gore.

“I met with some people from the Liberty Group before running the [cannabis] bill. And what was really fascinating was that almost every person that I talked to who was previously affiliated or with the group all personally took a stance for the decriminalization of medical marijuana, consistent with what I would view as a libertarian position,” said Rep. Jared Olsen (R-Cheyenne), the chairman of the Joint Judiciary Committee and the main sponsor of last session’s marijuana legalization bill. “But they all said the same thing to me, which was that Susan Gore personally has such an issue with marijuana that the Liberty Group would not be taking a position on it.”

Gore traveled to the Capitol to testify against the bill, which ultimately failed.

From Libertarian influencer to espionage

Some, like Freudenthal, believe Gore’s alleged activity was inevitable.

Gore’s ties to Wyoming date back to the mid-1990s, when she first moved to Jackson after more than a decade living in a transcendental meditation community in Iowa. In 2008, Gore entered Wyoming’s political scene with the founding of the Libertarian-leaning Wyoming Liberty Group.

The mission, according to a former staffer who declined to be named, was smaller government, school choice and low taxes. As the group grew in influence, Freudenthal — then in the final years of his second term — began to take notice of Gore’s activities, he said. Freudenthal said he grew concerned over the influence a single, wealthy individual could have on Wyoming’s politics.

Gore eventually cemented a place amid Wyoming’s political class. She donated large sums of money over the years to the Wyoming Republican Party, according to campaign finance documents reviewed by WyoFile. After rebooting its image in 2015, the Liberty Group gained influence. In its growing sway in the Legislature and with the public, Freudenthal said,  Gore’s personal influence grew as well, with candidates eventually tailoring their messages to match her politics.

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She played a role in the defeat of House Speaker heir apparent Rosie Berger in the 2016 primary elections. In 2018, she donated handsomely to Republican gubernatorial candidate Sam Galeotos. Gore was instrumental in a populist wave in the 2020 Republican primaries, donating tens of thousands of dollars to hardline conservatives. Many of those candidates went on to win their elections.

“What was transpiring was simply a matter of ‘how do we gain power at any cost?’” Freudenthal said. “And unfortunately, they’ve been largely successful.”

In 2019, then-Wyoming Liberty Group board member Case realized his political philosophy was no longer compatible with Gore’s, he said, due to his stance on social issues and taxation. 

“I was always trying to steer the Liberty Group more toward the Libertarian area in issues about economic reform and economic development issues,” Case said. “But I could never get a lot of traction on the big social issues.”

He left the board in 2019.

In recent years, Case has watched Gore funnel thousands of dollars to defeat Democrats as well as conservatives he sees himself aligned with. He wonders when he will be targeted, Case said, particularly as donors like Gore seem bent on purging moderate “Republicans in Name Only,” or RINOs, from the party ranks.

Rep. Cyrus Western chats with a colleague on the first day of the 2020 Legislative session. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

“Paranoia,” Rep. Cyrus Western (R-Sheridan), said of the trend. “Go figure.”

Burlingame considers the rise of Gore’s influence culminating in espionage inevitable considering current trends, she said.

“In a post-Trump world, you have all these hyper-wealthy donors who have been radicalized into a paranoia about the Deep State,” Burlingame said. “And you also have this small army of con artists who are just out looking for someone to fund them. And they’re a perfect match.”

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that LaRocca and Maier met with Burlingame in 2019 while she was a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives, not in 2018 when Burlingame was a candidate. -Ed.

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  1. Much ado about nothing. Happens everyday on both side of the isle. I’m sure some of those quoted in the article have played in the dark side of politics like this themselves. It’s all about spin, all about PR, all about manipulating the system. Just wait until next summer when election season comes up and we find out that candidate XYZ didn’t pay their parking tickets back in the day and somebody spins it into driving the City of ABC into dire financial straits. Where do you think that information comes from?

    Democrats in Wyoming complain they have no voice, it’s the opposite in other states like California and New York – and frankly watching what cess pools those democrat states have become I can understand conservative concerns that same mentality takes over Wyoming.

    Just another day in the dark side of politics, I’d be more interested when the media investigates both sides of the isle as thoroughly as they poke at the conservative side. If the media was truly independent and unbiased both sides of the isle would clean up their act.

  2. The greater story here isn’t the gossip but instead to determine whether Republicans, Democrats, conservatives or liberals want the State to be run by big money. Thanks to the Legislators and voters who do stay on the track with issues and recognize greed and power-mongering when that shows through. The article is well worth reading, NY Times or wherever. Espionage? Conspiracy? Infiltrate? I never thought I’d find this vocabulary in Wyoming political conversations.

    1. Mary, I agree with you. It’s all child’s play..with a whole bunch of money. I have never before seen such manipulation of laws and politicians. I don’t know what party I belong to anymore..I just want to vote for who or what I think is right for our communities here in Wyo.

  3. When I see a story that begins with a source reference to the New York Times I steeply discount it..
    In my view the NY Times paper is completely agenda driven and journalism is an accident. They once had a
    noteworthy diplomatic column as did The Economist now Mad Magazine seems equally credible. But I guess
    the authors New York roots prevail. However it is interesting to see who is pulling the strings. I hope when George Soros and Michael Bloomberg show up in Wyo. you give similar vigor to their actions.

  4. So what are the Democrats and other “targets” really worried about? Is there something they want to hide?

    I get that the “spies” were misrepresenting their views to gain access. Not the first time we’ve heard about lies in politics. It’s a dirty business. Most of what I read in this article were dirty comments.

    It seems a little rich for a recently arrived reporter from NY to be complaining about outside influence in a 12 year old liberal news outlet funded by heiress Liz Storer. Is this personal Liz?

    Susan Gore (my mom) has “only” been living in WY for about 25 years (about 20 years more than Rep. Cheney). Our family has Wyoming roots going back generations. We care deeply about our state.

    This reads like an ideologically motivated attack with little basis in fact.

    1. These people lied and seduced their way into people’s homes and personal lives. This may be ‘politics as usual’ for republicans, but it is actually just shameful, malicious and reprehensible behavior that should not be tolerated. You don’t have to have anything to hide to be disturbed by a stranger recruiting and providing military-style training to spies who then target you and infiltrate your home and your life with full intention of finding ways to do harm to you, your friends and your family. If I remember, as Americans, we have a right to “be secure in our person, papers, and effects”.

      Just because your mom is insanely paranoid, rich, and overzealous in her political beliefs does not excuse her reprehensible behavior.

  5. Lets not forget to look at the generally popular social issues that have been spiked by the Repubs – Medicaid expansion, Medical marijuana, etc.- if you’re going to do some investigative reporting on this story.

  6. Agent 006.5 “Bond, Beau Bond” doesn’t’ quite have the same ring to it. The Wapiti Valley has become a hotbed for these ultra right wingnuts. Most in Cody ingnore ’em

  7. I have often wondered how Wyoming turned from the free-thinking individualistic state that once elected leaders like Gale McGee, Mike Sullivan, Dave Fruedenthal and other like democrats, into the conservative cesspool that it seems to be today. Out of staters like Susan Gore and other similar carpetbaggers may be at least part of the answer.

    Ed

    1. I tend to agree. Wyoming politics is indeed a cesspool. This article sheds a lot of light. Democrats have been pretty much vanquished and the Republicans seem to be in a continual food fight. Not much forward thinking from the Republicans who are at the top right now.

  8. Next right-wingnut maneuver – don’t be shocked and awed if both Ms. Gore and Erik Prince deny knowing these duped puppets

    1. Good Morning Rachel,

      I can count on you for what aboutism….I would think you would be happy as mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery. If I recall the King of Direct Marketing, that brought the worst President and VP to power (Bush/Cheney), one Karl Rove, was the originator or perfecter of the tactics ELLA are emulating.. The funny part is that ELLA is telling a truth while the right is always is projecting/gaslighting.

      It will be interesting to watch if these two that threw money around will be able to confirm it came from their own pockets or someone else? Didn’t the Wyoming GOP just get fined for improper bundling of contributions for the next worst President ever, Donald Trump?

      1. Whataboutism = how dare you call out our side for doing what we are calling you out for.

        That said, Greg, at least you are honest about who you are unlike Liz Cheney.

  9. It will be interesting to see if someone such as the US Attorney will follow up on this. It shouldn’t be too complicated. The FBI contacts then and asks them if their donations were made with their money or money given to them by a third party for the donations. If they say it was their own money, then ask them for evidence they had the financial resources to make these donations. Get their bank records to see if there were any third party sources of income that tie into the donations. These two might not be, as they say, the sharpest knives in the drawer, but I’d have to believe they wouldn’t dig themselves a really deep legal hole by lying to the FBI just to protect whoever was paying them.

  10. I WONDER WHY ANYONE IN WYOMING AND MONTANA IS CONCERNED ABOUT VOTING RIGHTS AND REGULATIONS WHEN 99.9% ARE REPUBLICANS. I GUESS THOSE WHO ARE OBSESSED WON’T QUIT TIL BOTH STATES ARE 100% REPUBLICANS

  11. Thank you Nick for investigating this situation and giving us valuable information. I wondered who was working against medical mj in our state. Most Republicans are moderate and simply want what is best for all people in Wyoming. Thank you again for a quality piece of reporting. We need more journalists with integrity. Fyi Project Veritas employs citizen journalists. This does not sound like their kind of work. They look for corruption and help whistleblowers reveal bad actors. It may make them appear to be right wing, but that is a subjective view. Truth has no party. We all need to look for truth and reject deception. These characters were obviously acting on Gore’s dollar. I doubt PV had any involvement. It just seems juvenile compared to their standard. Just my two cents.

    1. “Truth has no party. We all need to look for truth and reject deception.”

      I agree with your statement above. When will people reject the lie of chrump losing because of voter fraud and the “stolen” election?

      1. Democrat politicians have been stuffing fake ballots into the boxes since at least 1860.
        Voting machines have been proven to be corrupt and not safe since Diebold got busted in the 1990s.
        The test run for 2018 was the 2016 election in California where republicans were winning all of Orange County (solidly Republican) and the governor’s race when we all went to bed. The fake ballots and voting machine fraud all happened in the dead of night. Same MO.
        Pelosi and Harris both have direct ties to Dominion… Which is also linked to the old Diebold machines. The machines have built in modems and data base software that allows a user to apply a formula that will alter the results of the election in the dead of night.
        If you are confident that the communist regime in D.C. actually won the election then you certainly must welcome audits to prove that is so. Funny that the conspirators in the swing states are so desperate to prevent audits. You’d think they were trying to hide something. But you keep believing the lies and take your Covid shots and wear your mask. Do what you are told and don’t ask questions. That’s a good boy. Here’s a biscuit. Pat pat pat

        1. Venezuela and Hugo Chavez (from the grave) sure seems to have a ton of influence in our country. Or maybe Q followers are just too eager to believe a narrative that has no basis in fact?

          There was no fraud.
          The election wasn’t “stolen”
          chrump lost.

          Please live in reality.

  12. It would be of interest & valuable to all of us to learn which legislators owe their election to Gore & are pleased to be in Cheyenne as her puppets as well of those that have been targeted for last minute smears in primaries. I hope Wyofile will follow the money & let us know.

  13. Dark money in politics and the media have destroyed both parties. Wyoming Promise is all we have left

  14. Most likely stunned and dismayed at getting caught. These people are totally lacking in scruples. The nut cases have taken over the Republican Party in Wyoming.

  15. When I was serving in the Wyoming House of Representatives I received a $2.00 bill in the mail as a campaign contribution. I took it as a statement that I was as phony as a two dollar bill as a republican. I sent them a very nice thank you for your contribution to my campaign fund.

  16. This whole cloak and dagger scenario is so – well, juvenile. Sara Burlingame hits the nail on the head, It’s projection. They assume their “enemies” will employ the same tactics they use. Again, it’s very middle-school (with apologies to middle schoolers). Also, it’s amusing, in a sad sort of way, that so many Wyoming Republicans are staunchly opposed to candidates who attract Democratic voters. That seems like a death wish for apolitical party.

  17. What the heck happened to my Wyoming GOP? Please, please don’t tell me that Dewey Vanderhoff was right all this time….

      1. And all this time we all thought that the “Dewey’s” of Wyoming were the crackpots. The whole time, Mr. Vanderhoff had the rats sniffed out and their positions triangulated.

        Rock solid GOP’er here but, gotta give due where it’s due. Well played, Mr. V, well payed….

  18. It’s like being infiltrated by a political mob. It’s one thing to meet an opponent on opposite sides in the open but to act like you’re one thing and be another leaves all credibility in question. Her picture and a time line of her activities over the years should be published in a short concise manner needs to be out there for all to see and know, a sheep in wolfs clothing.

    1. This, sadly, is called politics.
      It is one of the most corrupted industries in the world.
      And has changed little since known recorded human history (the history of Political Science is a study history of political influence & corruption. Centuries of Philosophers have delved into the complicated nature of the topic).

      And guess what?
      It’s happening on both sides.
      There are plenty of “Dem” operatives & operations that use the same tactics.
      But most people aren’t privy to the whole dirty & sordid affairs of politics.

      I suggest you read works from people like Edward Bernays, often regarded as the “Father of Spin”.
      PR is all about spin, public image manipulation, and public perception.
      Most every Politician, at least on the federal level, employ & are directed by large PR firms.
      Trained & directed in the art of double-talk.

      PR has most completely displaced reality.
      And few to none are the wiser.

      What’s most surprising to me, especially given the massive amounts of public corruption over thousands of years, is that people still lend belief & credibility in the integrity of those political systems.
      The naivety of the real workings of the political industry.
      Political systems & an industry that are wholly corrupt.
      And I do mean “wholly”.

      Former Mobster Whitey Bulger once mentioned that the Mob tries to infiltrate & control any entity/industry that controls massive amounts of money (gambling, drugs, prostitution, etc.).
      Governments perfectly fit that target/agenda.
      Now that governments have become cash cows, empowered with massive budgets & the ability of creating the rules that can make or break corporations & industries, those seeking greater power & money will continue to seek control/influence over those governments, and government officials.

      One of the main faults & eventual failures of Big Government.

      This is just one in a tale of thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps more.

      Remember the complicated Two Elk Saga?
      How many Governors & Politicians, on both sides of the aisles, did Michael J. Ruffatto con?

      18th century British Authors John Trenchard & Thomas Gordon wrote their Cato’s Letters regarding the massive corruptions occurring at most every level of the British government, at the behest of the largest corporations, run by wealthy elite whom could buy political favors.
      Cato’s Letters are often regarded as amongst the most influential writings for the American Revolutionaries & U.S. Founders.
      Money is power.

      About a decade later, John Dalberg-Acton, in regards to corruptions of the Church, wrote:
      “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

      Democracy is NOT for the Politicians nor Elite to control.
      Democracy dies because citizens get lazy, complacent, docile, etc.

  19. Whoopie! A conspiracy in Wyoming. And, a fascist one to boot! Yippee kai yay. Izzat part of the “code of the west”? The state should have been returned to territorial status long ago. It is incapable of self-government.

  20. Susan Gore, an interesting person. An heir to the Gore-Tex fortune. “Adopted” her ex-husband so she would be eligible for more shares of Gore-Tex stock. Ms. Gore was also a “floater” while living in Fairfield Iowa, home to Maharishi International University (Google it). Has never worked a real job.

    Once again, big money that imported themselves to Wyoming in an attempt to twist and sway the politics of our State.

    1. Hi Sal,

      Your comments are ignorant.

      Susan (my mom) was a working class mom while raising her three kids. She has held real jobs and is an accomplished woman.

      She did not adopt to increase her inheritance. She had nothing personally to gain. She was trying to equalize the inheritance to her kids and grandkids, which due to an estate anomaly was 1/5th of her siblings kids’ inheritance.

      Our family has ties to Wyoming going back generations. We are not imported and we are not big money.

      Susan and our family love Wyoming and are doing our best to keep it great. Have you noticed any changes to Colorado in the past 20 years? Is that what you want for Wyoming? Neither do we.

      1. Not big money? Your family is the 46th richest family in America, with a net worth of 8.2 billion. Is the rest of what you have to say as accurate as your family money comment, Joel?

  21. Thanks Nick and it is apparent Susan Gore is currently winning the war on moderates, but I can only hope this was a little too far? Susan, Dan and Carleen really back the worst type of people and it makes me wonder what type of world do they really want, I mean what is their vision because it seems very dystopian or theocratic. Based on whom they helped get elected it appears theocratic, but those new republican legislators have a very narrow view of what it takes to run the government effectively..

    Good to see that there are some good legislators remaining and the people of Wyoming are going to have to work hard to see through the piles of BS that is being dumped on our citizens heads in order to keep them and increase their numbers.

  22. Did ya’all know that Beau Maier’s uncle is none other than conservative commentator Glen Beck? Becks’ sister (Beau’s mother) lives in Cody

    1. These “political spies” fall somewhere between “Get Smart” and “F Troop” … or maybe”It’s a Mad, Mad Mad, World”, considering the collision of buffoonery and greed. Or just a malignant example of the horrible Trump World we’ve now entered.