PAC backing Cheney challenger Gray funded solely by his father

State Rep. Chuck Gray’s father is the sole funder of a secretive political action committee that is boosting Gray’s bid to oust U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in next year’s Republican primary.

According to campaign finance disclosures filed with the Federal Elections Commission Saturday, Jan Charles Gray is the only contributor to Protect Wyoming Values PAC. The operation has orchestrated an extensive social media and phone text campaign promoting Gray as the best candidate to replace Cheney.

According to campaign finance reports, the elder Gray contributed $100,000 to the PAC on May 5. To date, the PAC has spent more than $80,000 of that boosting Gray ahead of next year’s primaries. As of June 30, the PAC had less than $20,000 in cash on hand, with no additional donors reported, according to campaign finance reports.

The PAC, which was registered anonymously with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office earlier this year, has served as a conduit between Gray’s father and Florida-based consultant Microtargeted Media, a one-stop shop for political campaigns managed by a Florida Republican Party official with close ties to former president Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

Gray in June declined to comment on any possible ties between the PAC’s spending and the Trump camp. Gray attended a series of meetings at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club last week, according to news reports and the Gray campaign.

However, shortly after WyoFile reported on the PAC, it posted a rebuttal on Facebook.

“Looks like a reporter is trying to connect our organization to CHUCK GRAY,” the PAC wrote. “Let’s help him do his homework.””

Federal campaign finance laws that dictate how political action committees can coordinate with political candidates require organizations affiliated with a candidate to register their contributions as “in-kind” donations to the candidate’s campaign.

Coordinated expenditures are subject to different regulations, including contribution limits, than independent PAC activities without direct ties to a campaign.

Neither Gray’s campaign nor Jan Charles Gray immediately responded to repeated requests for comment.

Because Protect Wyoming Values PAC was established through a registered agent, it is impossible to prove whether the elder Gray founded the PAC, or if it was incorporated by another organization and financed by Gray. 

To prove a PAC was improperly  coordinated with a candidate, complaints must stand up to scrutiny under a three-pronged test, FEC spokesman Myles Martin said. The test components look at the source of the payment, the nature of the communications and the interaction between the person paying for the communication and the candidate or political party committee, he said. 

“This is a really unusual situation where you have a candidate’s family member directly and entirely funding the super PAC that is supporting the candidate,” Pete Quist, research director at the Montana-based National Institute on Money in Politics said. “But this doesn’t pass the smell test. Are people really not talking to one another here? This seems like a very close association.”

Gray’s campaign, which boasts the largest cash on-hand totals of any Cheney challenger as of July, has been largely self-funded, with relatively anemic donor support compared to candidates like Cheyenne attorney Darin Smith and Wyoming State Sen. Anthony Bouchard. 

According to Gray’s July FEC report, nearly $300,000 of the candidate’s $394,000 raised this election have come in the form of loans from the candidate himself, while an additional $5,600 in direct contributions have come from his father.

It is unclear whether the candidate has spent a significant amount of his own money. Of the $71,000 spent by the campaign so far, Gray as an individual has spent just over $1,400 for purchases including mailbox rental, airline tickets and campaign signs.

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.