Laramie County residents cast their vote Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, at the Laramie County Community College polling location amid a pandemic. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

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.

A little history

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. 

Record spending

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 megadonor, Foster Friess. 

Lynn Freiss (center) speaks with Harriet Hageman and her husband, John Sundahl, at an event for the state GOP convention in Sheridan on May 6, 2022. (Maggie Mullen/WyoFile)

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. 

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify details regarding Priorities USA Action. — ED.

Maggie Mullen

Maggie Mullen reports on state government and politics. Before joining WyoFile in 2022, she spent five years at Wyoming Public Radio.

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  1. “Trump Jr. also serves as honorary chairman of Wyoming Values”. Please tell me what Donald Trump Jr knows about Wyoming values. If he has learned from his father it’s to run a fraudulent university; run a money-laundering, self-serving “non-profit” foundation; pay porn stars for sex; ridicule anyone and everyone who disagrees with him. Wyoming values? I don’t think so.

  2. I am a lifelong Democrat that is going to be a Republican for a day. I want to participate in the election process and hope to offset some of the right wing bigotry and misinformation about a stolen election and to vote for someone with integrity. Liz Cheney win or lose will be on the right side of history. Forbid that Donald Putin should get re-elected

  3. Dark money is everywhere. More money is spent nationally by the Left. Regarding Jackson, WY, Friess is mentioned but not Wyss, whose influence appears to be illegal. Let’s not forget the money that flows to 501 (c)(3) media organizations, primarily from large Liberal foundations and donors to support the establishment.

    https://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/summ.php?cycle=2022&disp=O&type=A&chrt=P

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10826933/Swiss-born-billionaire-Hansjorg-Wyss-accused-violating-election-law-donations.html

  4. Democrats that become Republicans for a day on Aug. 16th are
    Carpetbaggers- No integrity.

    1. So because it leads to an outcome that you don’t want, a Democrat doing something that is perfectly legal demonstrates no integrity? This demonstrates perfectly the mindset of the current republican party and the cult of Trump. You’re going to be so disappointed on August 16 when Cheney crushes Trump’s chosen candidate

    2. Oh Nan, what a wonderful world indeed it could be, should I ever be given but a single good reason to remain crimson for the other 364……..

  5. “‘Wyoming Values,’ a Georgia-based super PAC, is responsible for more than half of the super PAC spending in Wyoming for the 2022 election.” Just about says it all. The nod to the Foster Friess legislature says the rest of it. The very notion of “grass roots democracy” now lies mouldering under a berm of money.

  6. On August 16th, we Democrats will become Republicans to vote for Liz Cheney in the primary, and it is my hope that the big bucks contributed for her adversary will be wasted.

  7. Dark money in politics is working out well for whom? just the media , not the people.

  8. None can buy an election in Wyoming. Money does not determine outcomes. One can spend more to get their viewpoint across, or attack another’s, but only a favorable viewpoint will garner support in the end. Wyoming’s residents have elected democrats to the Gov’s office. They embrace the idiots and the gifted. Those with big money and those without.

  9. $46,000 is $11,585 more than the median per capita income for Wyomingites (as listed by the U.S. Census Bureau); and, $1,000,000 is just about what your average Cowboy Joe can hope to earn and spend during the course of his entire 30 year career (assuming that he hasn’t missed a single day of work). Just something for y’all to chew on awhile when yer standin’ in them little tiny booths coloring in them little tiny ovals…..