If she is found guilty, Gore could face time in prison.
The plot involved two bumbling operatives who pretended to be pro-cannabis activists in order to record secret videos of politicians saying incriminating or embarrassing things. In addition to spying on lawmakers like Gov. Mark Gordon and then-Speaker of the House Eric Barlow, they also targeted groups like Better Wyoming.
It is unclear what, if any, footage the spies captured. To date, the only video released from the project showed Better Wyoming director Nate Martin talking disparagingly about Liz Cheney. The video has since been taken offline.
In order to gain access to their targets, the two spies, Beau Maier and Sofia Larocca, made hefty donations to political candidates, to the Wyoming and Colorado Democratic Parties, and even to Better Wyoming.
Together, they sent $20,000 to the Democratic National Committee, which bought them seats at a 2020 primary debate in Las Vegas and other fundraisers.
The FBI investigation into Gore stems from the fact that the donations Maier and Larocca made to political candidates and parties might have been illegal. This is because, as paid spies, they were not using their own money.
If it was Gore’s money, she could be implicated in a type of federal election crime that the Department of Justice tends to take very seriously.
“Straw man” donations
The type of crime in question is known as a “straw man” donation. No one can make campaign donations with someone else’s money, or on their behalf.
This is because there are limits to how much money an individual can donate to a candidate or political party. In essence, the law is designed to stop a donor from maxing out their own contribution limit, and then giving even more to a candidate under someone else’s name.
As a wealthy heiress and political influencer, Susan Gore is the type of person who can get away with just about anything in Wyoming. The state is famous for its lack of accountability.
But the federal government is a bit less lenient, especially when it comes to election crimes. Other people with higher profiles than Gore’s have been strictly punished for “straw man” donations.
In 2012, conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza was convicted of illegally making $20,000 in “straw man” contributions to a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in New York. He paid a hefty price: eight months in a halfway house, five years’ probation, and a $30,000 fine.
It doesn’t matter whether illegal contributions are made to GOP or Democratic candidates. Washington, D.C., businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson was sentenced in 2016 to three months in prison, three years’ probation, and a $10,000 fine for illegal funding through “straw man” donors to several candidates, including Hillary Clinton.
Wyoming’s top election official funded by Gore
The FBI investigation into Gore for election crimes follows more than a decade of the heiress using her vast wealth to influence Wyoming politics. Many credit her substantial contributions for playing a major role in the Wyoming Legislature’s hard-right ideological turn in recent years.
For instance, Gore spent more than $70,000 in personal donations in the 2020 election, mostly backing far-right primary challengers to traditional conservative incumbents in the Legislature.
Ten of the 22 candidates she backed won their races that year.
In addition to the money she gives candidates directly, Gore has funded the Wyoming Liberty Group and other political organizations to the tune of more than $1 million per year. The total amount Gore has spent trying to influence Wyoming politics will likely never be known.
Notably, Gore has been a hefty donor to Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray throughout his political career. She gave $2,500 to former state representative and Freedom Caucus member for his aborted 2022 congressional bid. When he dropped out to run for secretary of state, Gore donated another $1,500 to that campaign.
Gray campaigned for Secretary of State on the idea that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen.” Interestingly, a core part of his campaign involved screenings of 2000 Mules, a documentary by Dinesh D’Souza, who was convicted of election crimes himself.
Alongside Gore, the FBI is also investigating British intelligence operative Richard Seddon, who helped train Maier and Larocca, the spies in the 2018 Wyoming operation.
This training took place on the Park County ranch of Erik Prince, an international mercenary and war criminal, who is also under investigation.
In addition, federal prosecutors are seeking financial records from Prince and former Project Veritas head James O’Keefe, who was the keynote speaker at the 2022 Wyoming State GOP Convention.
Investigators also want to see any communications between Maier and LaRocca, as well as individuals and organizations that received their donations.
Gore has retained an attorney, Nicholas Gravante, a Manhattan lawyer with many high-profile clients. Seddon’s lawyer is Robert Driscoll, a former Justice Department official whose previous clients include Maria Butina, who was convicted in 2018 of being an unregistered foreign agent of Russia in the United States.
While Gore’s vast funds have done a great deal to influence Wyoming politics, they will now be tied up, at least for the moment, in an attempt to keep her out of jail.