Congresswoman Liz Cheney dominated the first leg of the fundraising race in the high-profile primary contest for her reelection next year.
One of her opponents, however — state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne — boasted one of the highest-earning debuts ever for a challenger to an incumbent member of the Wyoming’s D.C. delegation, raising $334,370.
According to campaign finance returns filed with the Federal Elections Commission on Thursday, Cheney posted her best-ever fundraising quarter in the first three months of 2021, raising more than $1.5 million in her bid for a fourth term as Wyoming’s lone representative in Congress.
Just over $315,000 of Cheney’s first quarter haul came from political action committees, a figure some observers interpreted as a sign business interests were aligning in her favor — and against her political rival, former President Donald Trump. PAC contributions constituted an unusually low proportion of Cheney’s first quarter total, however. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the representative has typically relied on PACS for more than 43% of her fundraising.
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Donations under $200 played an outsize role for Cheney this cycle, accounting for more than $444,000 — roughly 30% of the total.
In a typical year, small donations constitute just over 6.3% of her fundraising, according to CRP.
Bouchard — who lacks similar PAC support and Cheney’s connections — raised more than two-thirds of his campaign’s war chest through small, unitemized donations. The majority of the other third, according to campaign finance records, came from larger, out-of-state donors. Of 210 “large donors” to give to his campaign, 41 reported Wyoming addresses, with eight of those accounting for more than $10,350 of his fundraising.
“All grassroots donors (8000+), no PAC money to date,” Bouchard wrote on his Facebook page. “Thank you to all who have donated, are continuing to donate, and those who plan to donate, your support is the driving force of this campaign, we couldn’t do this without you! #TeamBouchard.”
Bouchard said in a press release the donations came from all 50 states.
Cheney, meanwhile, counted 35 large Wyoming-based donors out of nearly 1,000 “large” contributors, who gave a combined $51,150 of the $1,015,189 she’s received from individuals this quarter. About 20% of that $51,150 came from her parents, Dick and Lynne Cheney, who each gave the maximum amount.
Representatives for both candidates declined to disclose the proportion of small donations they received from in-state, a common indicator of grassroots support in their own backyards.
“We know [the total], we just aren’t making it public yet,” Bouchard spokesperson April Poley wrote in an emailed statement. “If Cheney makes her WY donor numbers public, I’m sure we’ll do the same with ours as I suspect we have far far far far FAR more individual WY donors than she does.”
Wyoming Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper — the third-best funded candidate in the race — reported just over $173,000 in donations this quarter. More than $133,000 of that came in the forms of loans from the candidate himself. Another $5,800 came from his father.
A growing trend in fundraising
Since Cheney voted to impeach former President Trump following the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Wyoming’s typically provincial primary process has drawn national attention. Trump has hinted at future visits to the Cowboy State in recent months and dangled endorsement promises over the field.
The former president’s surrogates, including his son, Donald Trump Jr., have gotten involved in Wyoming politics as well. Trump Jr. pressured state lawmakers during the 2021 legislative session to vote for a run-off election bill he said could help prevent a splitting of the vote in Cheney’s favor.
Bouchard has sought to capitalize on the national attention afforded the race. He’s largely denied local and mainstream media interviews (like the New York Times) in favor of appearances on right wing networks and social media. His Twitter account — labelled “Anthony Bouchard for Congress Against Cheney” — appears regularly in the replies of national conservative social media influencers who mention Cheney or his race. Oftentimes, he will include a link to his donor page.
That method, said the Center for Responsive Politics’ Brendan Quinn, represents a growing trend in American politics, in which upstart candidates from both major parties utilize social media to reach national donor bases. That allows them to be competitive against their better-funded opponents.
Pioneered by candidates such as Barack Obama and later perfected by Trump, the method has been adopted by lesser-known candidates to gain notoriety and support from audiences outside of the traditional campaign venues. Notable recent practitioners include newcomers like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and failed Republican congressional candidate Kim Klacik in Maryland, whose flashy campaign raised millions of dollars that largely went into the pocket of a single political consultant. Wyoming U.S. Senate candidate Merav Ben-David used a similar approach to raise funds in her failed bid against current Sen. Cynthia Lummis last year.
“Trump tapped into a conservative grassroots donor base that wasn’t really being tapped before,” Quinn said. “And thus he had more success with small donors than any previous presidential candidates. So it makes sense that people would be trying to interact with people on social media in his orbit, and hopefully attract similar people that started giving to Trump when he started running and sharing donation links on Twitter.”
Whether the method is sustainable over a two-year campaign is up for debate. The trend is so new, Quinn said, that there is little data to support whether candidates can sustain their high profile, or the associated fundraising long enough to build effective campaign operations.
“I think this will really put that to the test,” Quinn said. “Because [the impeachment vote] happened about as far away from an election as it could have. … it remains to be seen if Trump and his allies can keep fueling that outrage against the candidates who voted for his impeachment.”