On the surface, it seemed like the most surprising aspect of Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney’s primary defeat on Tuesday was how big the margin was.
Because of Cheney’s prominent role in the Jan. 6 witch hunt, many commentators, as well as former President Donald Trump, predicted she would lose when forced to face her state’s Republican voters.
According to Politico, with 99 percent of the votes counted, Trump-endorsed Republican candidate Harriet Hageman won 66.3 percent to Cheney’s 28.9 percent. It was a historic shellacking.
Another surprising element may have arisen during Cheney’s self-aggrandizing concession speech, where the now-lame duck congresswoman signaled a potential run for the presidency.
However, in setting up the speech, Cheney may have violated Federal Election Commission rules about campaign contributions.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny set the scene for Cheney’s capitulation in a poignant post on Twitter.
The Cheney speech tonight will be delivered in a picturesque spot outside Jackson. Veteran TV producer James Goldston, an adviser to the Jan. 6 committee, and a film crew are on hand here in Wyoming–as "a friend" of Cheney. From our CNN blog: https://t.co/hmtIbHI9Cm
— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) August 17, 2022
Details included in the tweet reveal the troubles Cheney could face.
The Federal Election Commission’s website describes a type of campaign support called an in-kind contribution. “An in-kind contribution is a non-monetary contribution. Goods or services offered free or at less than the usual charge result in an in-kind contribution.”
The FEC website also notes the limits of campaign contributions for 2021 to 2022. The most an individual can contribute to candidates is $2,900.
Breitbart summarized the potential campaign finance violation the Cheney team committed:
“Anyone who films a candidate may generally do so, under the protections of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, if the film crew is producing a video especially for a candidate, that counts as a service provided to the campaign.
“Goldston’s services, including his crew, are probably worth tens of thousands of dollars. Moreover, Zeleny reported that Goldston is filming Cheney as a favor — as a ‘friend.’ Hence his contribution would be an in-kind contribution to Cheney.”
Aside from the Twitter post, Zeleney shared a byline on a CNN report that described Goldston’s presence a little more clearly:
“Cheney worked closely with Goldston’s team in presenting the committee’s findings in a TV-ready fashion to a national audience. They have worked together to edit hours and hours of recordings that have brought to life the insurrection as it unfolded.
“‘She invited him as a friend and it has nothing to do with committee work,’ Jeremy Adler, a spokesman for Cheney, told CNN. Goldston declined to comment.”
So, either Cheney’s spokesman is not being entirely honest — “invited him as a friend” is not the way most people describe a business relationship where money is changing hands — or Goldston was recording the event for free.
Assuming that a “friend” of Cheney’s is not charging her, a former television news executive providing his professional skills and a crew for free to create a video that could be used for campaign purposes seems to fit the FEC’s in-kind definition.
In June, Axios described Goldston as the “former president of ABC News, and a master documentary storyteller who ran ‘Good Morning America’ and ‘Nightline.’” The headline of the Axios article even teased that Goldston was the “Jan. 6 committee’s secret advisor.”
The services of such a heavy hitter and his staff would be worth a lot more than $2,900.
Because of the circumstances, Cheney could face Federal Election Commission investigation, and fines if her campaign is found in violation.
Perhaps Cheney is counting on Washington’s infamous double standards on justice to escape any consequences.
In Cheney’s concession speech spin, the spin on her crushing defeat was to frame it as the beginning chapter of a new campaign for the presidency of the United States.
Goldston’s video work recorded Cheney’s chance to rebrand herself.
Looking to salvage her political career after overwhelming rejection by her own party’s voters, Cheney humbly compared herself to Abraham Lincoln: “The great and original champion of our party, Abraham Lincoln, was defeated in elections for the Senate and the House before he won the most important election of all.”
Liz Cheney: "Abraham Lincoln was defeated in elections for the Senate and House before he won the most important election of all…” pic.twitter.com/3bIFVv2Ch0
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) August 17, 2022
Cheney went further on Wednesday morning.
In an appearance on the “Today” show, no doubt eager to change the subject away from her thorough trouncing, Cheney hinted at her desire for executive power. “It is something I’m thinking about, and I’ll make a decision in the coming months,” Cheney said.
“I’ll make a decision in the coming months.” — Rep. Liz Cheney said about possibly running for President. pic.twitter.com/b2SjAYVN2W
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) August 17, 2022
Cheney also announced on Wednesday the formation of a new political action committee: The Great Task.
The name, which was the title of Cheney’s final ad of the campaign, is another riff on Lincoln, a phrase lifted from his Gettysburg Address.
Politico described Cheney’s PAC as an “Anti-Trump organization.”
What are the odds that Cheney’s concession speech name-dropping Lincoln might appear in a future Great Task “Cheney for President” promotion?
It is one kind in-kind favor Goldston gave her. Maybe too kind.
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