By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
According to election finance information submitted Tuesday evening, State Rep. Chuck Gray’s father, Jan Charles Gray, contributed $500,000 of Gray’s $527,980 total contributions in his Secretary of State race.
Gray’s detractors criticized the dependence on his father but Gray said the contribution is a sign of family business values dear to Wyoming.
State Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower. told Cowboy State Daily Wednesday, he finds the proportion of this campaign financing concerning.
“Do you want somebody living off daddy’s money or somebody paying their own bills?” Driskill asked. Driskill has donated to Gray’s opponent, State Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne.
Gray defended himself to Cowboy State Daily.
“But the insider establishment has big money in Wyoming to support candidates like (U.S. Rep.) Liz Cheney and Tara Nethercott, including with PAC dollars,” Gray told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “They’re teaming up with the (Casper) Star Tribune to put out false, defamatory stories that serve as a contribution to the Nethercott campaign worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Gray said he is grateful for his family and the help they’ve provided him.
“I’m grateful to my family for stepping up to counter these liberal attacks with funds from family businesses that I helped to build,” he said. “Family business is key to Wyoming’s success and people in family businesses should be able to run for office.”
Gray has made allegations of financial misconduct against Nethercott, accusing her of failing to include the “paid for,” line on her campaign signs, which is not required under Wyoming law. Federal law does require that yard signs have a “paid for” designation on them, but this law, according to the FEC, does not preempt state law.
Gray announced his Secretary of State campaign on May 18.
Jan Charles Gray had given his son’s state House of Representatives campaign fund $25,000, both on May 23 and May 24 for a total of $50,000, toward his state House campaign fund.
This was a position he for which Gray was immediately disqualified from running upon his filing for the Secretary of State race five, and six, days before his father’s contributions were made. Candidates in Wyoming are barred from running for multiple offices at the same time; by law he was disqualified from running for the House after announcing his candidacy for Secretary of State.
Gray’s total campaign expenditures are $24,613. These expenditures include advertising, campaign yard signs and travel.
Monique Meese, a communications officer with the Secretary of State’s office, said it is not illegal to use funds from a different state-level race as long as it is documented as a transfer from the old campaign to the new campaign. No documentations of transfers were made in Gray’s campaign filings.
A campaign is not considered officially suspended in Wyoming until an official notice of termination is provided to the Secretary of State’s office.
Gray gave $10,000 to his own campaign, a significant chunk of his yearly income.
Other donors included Gore-Tex heiress and Wyoming Liberty Group founder Susan Gore ($2,500), Kyra Hageman ($100), Wyoming House candidate Ben Hornok ($200), Wyoming GOP Secretary Donna Rice ($500) and State Sen. Tim French, R-Powell ($250).
Gray’s largest donor was his father.
He has reported $431,411 in expenditures for his Secretary of State campaign.
Questionable Income Reports
According to data provided by the Wyoming Legislative Service Office (LSO), Gray may have underreported how much money he made while serving in the State Legislature, in a filing he submitted to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in May.
Gray said he didn’t underreport these values and that the sums were only what he made through May 2022 and May 2021 since the beginning of those years. This income report was submitted in May 2022 and also included income from 2021.
Documents provided through the LSO show that Gray, a state representative from Casper, made $10,800 in 2020 and $14,250 in 2021. In his FEC filing, Gray said he made $5,804 in 2021, but he says that sum was in reference to what he had through May of 2021.
This may have been a clerical error as the disclosures form never stipulates a year-to-date calculation for prior years.
If the FEC finds a violation did occur, possible penalties can range from a letter of reprimand to various fines.
Gray’s source of income has become a major topic of debate in the Secretary of State race. Former Secretary of State Max Maxfield filed a complaint with the FEC regarding a nearly $300,000 loan Gray made to himself during his 2021 U.S. House campaign.
Gray’s total working income falls below a minimum wage salary as he made $4,500 while employed as a radio broadcaster in 2021, and $3,500 in 2020 as his only other source of working income. He made $5,000-$15,000 in investment dividends those two years as well.
“I just think with such a huge amount of money, it doesn’t link up with his annual amount of income,” Maxfield told Cowboy State Daily in an interview last week.
During a debate in Casper on Monday, Gray said he had received the $298,318 through an inheritance from his deceased grandfather. That night, Gray blamed his leading opponent, Nethercott, for the finance complaint filed against him by Maxfield.
“Those funds were my funds,” he said during the forum Monday. “Shame on Ms. Nethercott for taking advantage politically of my grandfather’s passing. I’m not taking money from PACs like my opponent. I’m not bought and they know that.”
The finance information Gray submitted with the State of Wyoming shows he received $500 from the American Society of Anesthesiologists PAC, an Illinois-based organization.
Gray suspended his earlier campaign for Wyoming’s lone seat in the U.S. House in September 2021 but has continued to receive a few donations and make a few expenditures through this campaign. In April, he paid Virginia-based Believe Media $2,000 for media consulting and in October 2021 he paid Colorado-based Liberty Services for political consulting.
Federal law does not prohibit transfers from federal campaign accounts to state accounts. Wyoming law does not address this matter.
Nethercott has received $332,900 in direct contributions for her campaign. She had $233,949 in expenses and $96,305 in cash carried forward.
Nethercott has received $53,550 in PAC donations. The Momentum 307 PAC gave the largest direct donation to her campaign with $22,000. The Western Conservatives super PAC, which has done a significant amount of advertising on behalf of Nethercott has spent $258,625 this year.
Nethercott, who is an attorney, has given $95,100 to her own campaign. She did not respond to requests to provide her personal income.