After WyGO Court Loss, Secretary Of State Seeks Clarity On How To Enforce Elections

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By Leo Wolfson, political reporter

In its appeal of a court case it recently lost to Second Amendment advocacy group Wyoming Gun Owners (WyGO), the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office is asking the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals for direction on how it should enforce election rules.

The State fined WyGO in 2020 for failing to disclose donors as a group spending more than $500 on “electioneering communication.” In his March ruling in favor of WyGO, U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl said the election law itself was unconstitutional because of how vaguely it was written.

In a statement last Friday, the secretary of state’s office said Skavdahl’s ruling lacked clarity as to how these challenged state statutes should function moving forward.

“By appealing to the Tenth Circuit, we seek direction for us as administrators and for those who engage in electioneering activities,” said Monique Meese, a spokesperson for the office. “We are hopeful that the ruling will also benefit the legislature should they wish to make statutory changes.”

The Legislature, during its budget session earlier this year, already approved a bill aimed at expanding the “electioneering communication” law.  It clarified “electioneering communication” to mean any public political advertising and said any expenses or contributions of $1,000 or more for this purpose must be reported.

The bill, which was signed into law in March by Gov. Mark Gordon, also said internal communications would not count as electioneering communication.

On April 29, the state attorney general’s office filed an appeal in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. On May 9, WyGO filed a cross-appeal. A cross-appeal is a request made after the original appeal, seconding a desire for the court to review and or clarify a lower court’s decision.  

Aaron Dorr, policy advisor for Wyoming Gun Owners, said in May, the appeal shows state officials are not paying attention to the wishes of their constituents.

“Ed Buchanan and the political elites in Cheyenne aren’t getting the message,” Dorr told Cowboy State Daily. “They didn’t listen when gun owners threw their anti-gun RINO (Republican In Name Only) friends out of office in 2020. They didn’t listen when Wyoming Gun Owners told them to go to hell when they demanded a list of our donors.”

Buchanan announced a few weeks after the lawsuit was filed, he is not seeking reelection, and instead is applying to be a judge in Goshen County. 

The WyGO lawsuit originated from Buchanan’s determination during the election campaign of 2020 that a $1,200 radio ad WyGO issued in support of Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) amounted to “campaign electioneering.”

The ad portrayed Bouchard as a champion of Second Amendment rights while calling his opponent for the state Senate, Erin Johnson, “pathetic” because she did not mention gun rights on her website.

Under state law, any group spending more than $500 on “electioneering communication” must report all contributions of $100 or more “related to” the communication.

Bouchard argued the advertisement did not qualify as “campaign electioneering” because it did not urge listeners to vote for or against either candidate.  But the state disagreed and charged WyGO with violating state election laws. The organization was fined $500 as a result.

WyGO paid the fine, but appealed the ruling to federal court, where Skavdahl ruled it would be too difficult to determine which contributions to WyGO were used to pay for political ads and which were used for other purposes.

The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office and Deputy Attorney General Brandi Monger are representing Buchanan, Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler, Election Division Director Kai Schon and state Attorney General Bridget Hill in the case.

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