Californians have contributed more to Republican Rep. Liz Cheney than donors from any other state, including her Wyoming home, as the outspoken Trump critic faces an increasingly perilous reelection bid.
Many California donors, including Hollywood and Silicon Valley moguls, vehemently disagree with most of Cheney’s policy positions, but applaud her fight against former President Trump’s false claim that he won the 2020 election and his actions since then.
Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection and her prominent role as vice chair in televised House committee hearings on the attack have boosted her status nationally, even as they have hurt her in Wyoming, where she trails her GOP primary opponent by double digits in polls. In heavily Democratic California, that has translated into donations totaling about $1.2 million.
Lifelong Democrat Mardy Wasserman, who has sent the campaign $25 each month since January, recalled leaving a voicemail at Cheney’s congressional office after the impeachment vote. “The message was that I don’t agree with her on anything” but that she “respected her integrity above all.”
The clinical psychologist from La Cañada Flintridge supports a handful of other out-of-state candidates, but Cheney is the sole Republican.
“She’s sacrificing her own political career for the benefit of honesty and justice in this country,” said Wasserman, 72.
More than 1,100 Californians contributed nearly a tenth of the $13 million Cheney raised through June 30 for her reelection campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records. In that period, she received donations from just over 200 Wyoming residents, totaling more than $260,000.
The statistics in this story are based on itemized donations from individuals who have given at least $200 to a House candidate, the threshold that requires campaigns to disclose detailed donor data to the FEC. The figures do not include contributions to candidates from political action or joint fundraising committees.
California, because of its enormous population and mother lode of wealthy donors, is traditionally a top source of donations for presidential hopefuls as well as House and Senate candidates of both parties in races across the country.
But Cheney, 56, has raised far more from the state than in previous election cycles. In 2020, she raised $161,608 in itemized donations from Californians, and in 2018, only $5,900. In 2016 — her first congressional campaign — she raised $100,875 from donors here.
Cheney’s Trump-backed Republican rival, attorney Harriet Hageman, has raised far less in advance of Wyoming’s Aug. 16 primary. Of Hageman’s $3.7 million in donations, nearly $155,000 came from Californians.
Hageman brought in over $1.2 million from Wyoming residents, more than four times Cheney’s haul from her home state, according to FEC data.
The concept of California liberals writing checks to a Cheney amuses some political observers, given the deep antipathy toward the congresswoman’s father, Dick Cheney, when he served as vice president under George W. Bush.
“People are not only rolling over in their graves — they’re actually tossing and turning in their graves right now,” said Jessica Levinson, an election law professor at Loyola Law School. But, she added, those critics of Dick Cheney are ”also probably giving a thumbs-up” over the younger Cheney’s principles.
The donations irk some Democrats, who say the money won’t make a difference in Cheney’s race and would be better spent helping Democrats in tight contests as the party struggles to hold control of Congress. They also contend the donations could give Cheney a bipartisan patina if she runs for higher office.
“Wyoming is cheap; she’s not in an expensive media market. Voters know her well. She already has sky-high name ID. Nothing in this race is going to be impacted by more or less money,” said a prominent Democratic fundraiser who requested anonymity to avoid harming relationships with donors.
“I don’t know what they think they’re accomplishing,” the fundraiser added. “A lot of people are scared for the future of our country, and they believe correctly that we need the partnership of certain Republicans in order to protect it, and she would be an ally in that work. But that’s not the only work I care about.”
Cheney’s donors include many bold-face Hollywood names, including studio mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, “Friends” producer Kevin Bright and movie director Gary Ross of “Seabiscuit” and “The Hunger Games.”
Katzenberg, the co-founder of DreamWorks Animation and one of the entertainment industry’s top Democratic fundraisers, said he decided to support Cheney because he admires her principled stance on the peaceful transfer of power.
“We disagree on most everything,” Katzenberg said of Cheney in a phone interview. But, he added, “she has been heroic and selfless in her performance and her loyalty to America and our Constitution. I stand in awe of her.”
He and his wife have each contributed $5,800 to Cheney’s campaign committee, the maximum allowed by law. They have also donated a substantial amount to an independent committee supporting her reelection effort.
Prominent Silicon Valley donors have also backed Cheney, including angel investor Ron Conway, Napster co-founder Sean Parker, Peloton Chief Executive Barry McCarthy and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, according to FEC data.
“The issue is less about money and more about showing support,” said Dmitri Mehlhorn, Hoffman’s political advisor. “It’s about signaling to everybody including Democrats that really the only thing that matters is whether you’re on the side of a peaceful transfer of power.”
The donors also include a number of former Republicans who left the party after Trump was elected, such as Gina Gualtiere. The Rancho Palos Verdes resident, 55, knew little about Cheney before she tuned into the Jan. 6 hearings.
“I just respect her for being a Republican and probably taking a lot of guff from the other Republicans for doing what she’s doing,” said Gualtiere, who donated $250. “She’s just trying to do the right thing.”
Some of the left-leaning donors, including Katzenberg, have previously given to Republicans, but not typically to politicians as conservative as Cheney.
Cheney’s lifetime congressional voting record aligns 77% of the time with the American Conservative Union. She voted in agreement with Trump 93% of the time they were both in office, and opposed his first impeachment.
She also defended waterboarding terrorism suspects, and didn’t denounce the false conspiracy theories that questioned President Obama’s birthplace.
Despite her support of most GOP orthodoxy, Cheney has occasionally strayed from her party’s most conservative views. The same day she praised the Supreme Court ruling that ended the constitutional right to abortion, she voted for a bipartisan gun safety bill.
During her unsuccessful 2014 Senate bid, Cheney opposed same-sex marriage, which caused a rift in her family because her sister is married to a woman. Last year, she expressed regret for that position, and recently voted for legislation to codify the right to same-sex marriage in federal law.
The greatest break with her party — the one likely to cost Cheney her House seat — is her outspoken criticism of Trump. Her impassioned statements and vote to impeach him for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection eventually led to her censure by the Republican National Committee and her removal from her House GOP leadership position and the Wyoming Republican Party.
Cheney trailed her primary rival Hageman by 22 percentage points in a Casper Star-Tribune poll published July 15.
“She’s in deep manure,” said Stuart Spencer, an advisor to President Reagan and longtime friend of the Cheney family who first met Cheney when she was in kindergarten.
Spencer and his wife, who live in Palm Desert, hosted a fundraiser in January that netted Cheney’s campaign over $100,000.
“She’s very unselfish,” he said of her work on the Jan. 6 committee.
The precariousness of Cheney’s House seat is an unexpected turn for a woman once considered Republican royalty. Her campaign declined requests for comment, but the congresswoman has said her conscience is clear.
Speaking recently on CNN, she said: “If I have to choose between maintaining a seat in the House of Representatives or protecting the constitutional republic and ensuring the American people know the truth about Donald Trump, I’m going to choose the Constitution and the truth every single day.”