The Federal Election Commission has dismissed a campaign finance violation complaint against now-Secretary of State Chuck Gray that was made during last year’s primary election.
Gray mentioned in at least two recent events that the complaint had been dismissed, but at the time, the commission hadn’t yet made the case documents public. The commission published the documents on Friday. It unanimously voted to reject the complaint on March 28.
Gray said in a statement to the Star-Tribune on Wednesday that the FEC’s dismissal of the “bogus” case is “a complete and total victory for truth.” He accused former Secretary of State Max Maxfield, who filed the complaint, of colluding with “the radical leftwing media to fabricate a phony narrative” that targeted his campaign and said he’ll evaluate legal options against Maxfield and media outlets that covered the complaint.
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“This is another case study of how the Left-wing media and the insiders work together to try to stop an outsider like myself from being elected,” he said. “With the FEC’s dismissal of Maxfield’s frivolous complaint, the Star-Tribune has zero credibility left.”
Exactly two weeks before last year’s August primary, Maxfield filed a federal complaint against Gray stemming from financial disclosures Gray made when he was a candidate for Wyoming’s U.S. House race. (Gray ended up dropping out of that race nearly a year prior and then ran for the post he now occupies.)
Maxfield alleged in the complaint that roughly $300,000 in loans Gray reported he had made to his principal campaign committee — Citizens for Chuck Gray — weren’t actually funded by himself but by a third party, which would violate federal campaign-finance law.
He asserted that Gray’s income for 2021-2022 was an insufficient amount for the state official to afford making a loan to his own campaign. Maxfield alleged the funds came from Gray’s father, Jan Charles Gray, given that the elder Gray was the sole donor to the Protect Wyoming Values political action committee supporting his son’s bid for Congress. He also employed his son at his business, Mt. Rushmore Broadcasting.
Maxfield didn’t respond to the Star-Tribune’s requests for comment Wednesday.
Gray later explained in a campaign forum that the loans came from money he had inherited from his late grandfather, Siegfried Ringwald.
Documents from the FEC case further detail the different sources of the funds he loaned to his own campaign. A March 2021 loan of $125,000 to his campaign came from $250,000 he received from a family trust that had been liquidated in 2017, and that had been set up by Ringwald, according to Gray’s response to the complaint.
In June of the same year, Gray loaned his campaign committee $165,000. That money came from the roughly $550,000 inheritance Gray received upon liquidation of Ringwald’s testamentary estate following his passing.
In the last election cycle, campaign contributions from individuals were capped at $2,900 per candidate for each election. But candidates can make unlimited contributions from their personal funds to their own campaign committees. Those personal funds include inheritances or money received from a will, which aren’t required to be disclosed in election finance reports.
The FEC ultimately dismissed the complaint because it found “no evidence” that contradicted Gray’s assertion that the money for the loans came from a liquidation of a trust and an inheritance from his grandfather.
“Not only did Maxfield collude with the radical leftwing media to fabricate a phony narrative targeting our campaign in a last-ditch effort to subvert the will of Wyoming voters, but they also went after my family,” Gray said in his Wednesday statement.
The commission’s legal review says further that the House financial disclosure reports cited in the complaint aren’t required, under the House Ethics Committee’s instruction guide on filing financial disclosure reports, to include inheritances or interest-free loans owed to the candidate. (Both of Gray’s loans to his campaign were interest-free, according to the case documents.)
Maxfield, an outspoken critic of Gray, endorsed the now-secretary of state’s primary opponent Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, in her bid for the post. He denied at the time that the complaint had anything to do with his opposing Gray’s candidacy for secretary of state, the Star-Tribune previously reported. Both Gray and Maxfield are Republicans.
Gray also tried to raise issue with Nethercott’s campaign last year, asserting that there had been meetings with the Secretary of State’s office to investigate his opponent’s omission of a “paid for” line in her campaign signs, the Star-Tribune reported at the time. Former Secretary of State Ed Buchanan told the Star-Tribune in early August that there had been no such meetings, and that yard signs don’t require a “paid for” disclosure under Wyoming statute.
In a text message correspondence with Gray two days later, which Gray provided to the Star-Tribune on Wednesday afternoon, Buchanan said he was told complaints against Nethercott had been referred to the Attorney General’s office. Neither Buchanan nor Attorney General Bridget Hill immediately responded to inquiries Wednesday from the Star-Tribune about the matter.
Gray, a 2020 presidential election skeptic who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, focused his campaign on election integrity, pushing to ban ballot drop boxes and raising concern about voter fraud, though cases of fraud are exceedingly rare in Wyoming. He beat out Nethercott and a third candidate, Wyoming native and former geologist Mark Armstrong, by roughly eight points in the primary election. He was unopposed in the general election.
This story has been updated.