Cheney sets fundraising records, as challengers surge

Rep. Liz Cheney during a House Republican Leadership press conference in April 2021. (Screenshot)

By Nick Reynolds, WyoFile

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney outraised all of her challengers combined by more than $1.2 million from April through June, campaign finance records show, giving her a dominant financial advantage roughly one year ahead of the 2022 Republican primaries.

Despite losing her position atop the House Republican Caucus earlier this year, Cheney managed a career-best fundraising quarter this spring, amassing $1.8 million on top of an already record-breaking $1.3 million haul in quarter one. Cheney now enters the second half of the year with a war chest totaling more than $2.8 million, a number double what she reported at the start of Q1 and nearly five times the total cash on-hand of all her opponents combined ($584,000).

Though her chief opponents in the primary race — Cheyenne attorney Darin Smith, Wyoming State Sen. Anthony Bouchard, and Wyoming State Rep. Chuck Gray — sought to capitalize early on backlash toward Cheney’s vote to impeach former President Donald Trump, the trio reported consistent fundraising in Q2, indicating sustained enthusiasm from the Republican base to remove Cheney from office.

“People across Wyoming, and across America, are fed up with Liz  Cheney’s sanctimonious attitude towards the people of our state,”  Bouchard said in a statement Thursday morning. “And every time she spits on us, I raise more money and my network gets even bigger.”

Here’s what WyoFile found in the numbers.

Bouchard spending money to make money 

Several months ago, some believed Bouchard, the race’s second-place fundraiser to-date, was finished.

Revelations that he had impregnated a 14-year-old high school girl as an 18-year-old made international headlines. National political forces looking to consolidate the crowded field no longer considered him a credible candidate. Some speculated the surge in fundraising he’d experienced in the winter and spring would dry up in the later stages of the race as major prospective donors were scared away.

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But Bouchard — who has raised well-over half a million dollars since January — defied those expectations. Though the roughly $213,000 he raised this quarter was well-below the third-of-a-million he’d raised early on, the number of donations he received was still well-above that of all other challengers in the race. Campaign finance data also shows that the scandal many believed would destroy his campaign did little to hamper those efforts. From April 1 until May 21 — the day the Daily Mail broke the scandal — Bouchard took in just under $46,000 in itemized donations, according to raw FEC data, an average of $902 raised per day.

Between May 22 to June 30 — the final days of the report — Bouchard took in a shade under $36,000, a $21 per day increase.

Bouchard’s notable gross didn’t come cheap, however. His campaign spending exceeded total receipts this cycle by more than $40,000, continuing the high burn rate he exhibited in Q1. At just over $108,000 in the bank, Bouchard now has the smallest cash-on-hand total among all the major candidates in the race, with the lion’s share of those expenditures going to consulting expenses, direct-mail advertising, and social media.

In a typical Wyoming campaign, this high level of spending — particularly with more than a year to go before the election — is highly unusual. But the 2022 Republican Primary, so far, has been anything but ordinary as numerous upstart candidates have emerged to take on a well-funded establishment incumbent.

To be able to compete with Cheney’s fundraising juggernaut, the Bouchard campaign has taken a more nationalized approach to its fundraising, seeking donations from a national base of small-dollar supporters while deemphasizing major giver and in-state donors. Of the roughly 13,000 total donations the campaign has received this cycle, just around 1,000 have come from within Wyoming, the campaign reported.

“I’ve made expanding my Wyoming donor base a top priority,” Bouchard wrote in a news release.

Though the campaign has spent money at a faster rate than any other in the race, that approach is somewhat by design. By spending heavily early, the campaign — assisted by Rick Shaftan who also advises groups like Wyoming Gun Owners  — is working to build a big enough mailing list to sustain itself in later stages of the campaign.

“…I am building a small donor list that can keep giving,” Bouchard wrote in a text message.

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Wyoming Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper) works the crowd on a campaign stop in Sheridan County in May 2021. Gray is one of eight candidates running in the 2022 Republican Primary against Liz Cheney. (Nick Reynolds/WyoFile)

Chuck Gray betting big on himself

Among the challengers Gray reported the highest Q2 donation receipts total. And he made it known.

“CHUCK GRAY TAKES FUNDRAISING LEAD AND WIDENS CASH ON HAND LEAD AMONGST CHENEY CHALLENGERS,” a news release from his campaign declared early Thursday afternoon.

By quantity, he did. His roughly $220,000 raised this quarter beat Bouchard by just over $8,000, and was 13% above the $177,000 raised by Smith. He also spent relatively little money in the quarter — just over $62,000 — to give him the largest cash on-hand total out of any Cheney challenger entering Q3.

The top-line figures, however, belie a comparatively anemic level of donor support. Of the $220,000 Gray’s campaign raised, just under $55,000 came from individual donors. The balance was made up with a $165,000 loan from the candidate himself. According to FEC filings, Gray made the loan on June 30, the deadline for this reporting cycle. Without the last minute infusion from his own pocket, Gray would have tallied the lowest haul of the major candidates, by a wide margin.

Not reflected in Q2 campaign finance filings is the boost Gray received  from a secretive political action committee, Protecting Wyoming Values. WyoFile previously reported the PAC has distant ties to former Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski.

Though its funding sources remain secret, the PAC has spent nearly $70,000 in support of Gray’s campaign this cycle. All of those funds went to Florida-based consulting firm Microtargeted Media, which has been tied to an extensive texting and social media campaign in the state.

Mr. Smith goes to Virginia, and Iowa, and Pennsylvania

Former Laramie County GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Congress Darin Smith chats with a voter at a recent campaign event in Cheyenne. (Nick Reynolds/WyoFile)

When Darin Smith first ran for Congress in 2016, he raised just over $95,000 — a paltry sum compared to the rest of the field at the time. In 2021, Smith nearly doubled that total, raising roughly $177,000 in the first three months of his campaign.

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It was not a change in methods for Smith: the candidate has long-relied on deep-pocketed donors to raise money. In 2016, the average contribution to his campaign was just over $1,200 and, in his most recent round of fundraising, fewer than half of the donations made to his campaign totaled less than $1,000.

However, the 2022 cycle signals a shift in the geography of Smith’s support. While nearly two-thirds of Smith’s donations in 2016 came from Wyoming,  just 35 of the 108 transactions reported by his campaign this quarter came from in-state.

That approach helped him build a sizeable war chest. With $142,000 cash on hand, Smith currently boasts the second most available resources of the challengers. He spent just under $35,000 this quarter.

Cheney continues unusual trend of small donors

Following Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump, the complexion of her contributor make-up changed drastically. Throughout her career, Cheney has typically relied on PACS for more than 43% of her fundraising, with small donations under $200 accounting for just 6.3% of her typical haul.

But this year isn’t typical. In her record-setting first quarter, Cheney took in more than $444,000 in small donations, roughly 30% of her total fundraising haul. Of the $1.88 million she raised in Q2, just 14% of her support came from PACs, while 23% of her total donations this quarter came from people giving less than $200.

Minor candidates unable to keep up

While the rich in the race got richer, lesser-known candidates failed to raise significant sums this quarter.

Sheridan County GOP Chairman Bryan Miller — who won the Wyoming Republican Party’s straw poll for the U.S. Senate last summer — raised as much as a typical statehouse campaign, counting less than $3,000 in cash on-hand, all of it coming from the candidate himself.

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Candidate Denton Knapp more than doubled Miller’s quarterly haul without any donations from the candidate himself, raising just over $7,000 from ten different donors this quarter, with an additional $1,400 raised from unitemized, small donations. Rounding out the field was former Pavillion mayor Marissa Selvig, who reported just over $100 in donations while spending more than $900 on the campaign trail. This leaves her just $250 in cash on-hand at the end of Q2.



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