By Leo Wolfson
A Colorado-based political action committee has been supporting Wyoming state-level candidates and smearing their opponents, without those candidates’ support.
“I do not condone any negative comments, any negative feedback or anything against my other opponent,” State Rep. Shelly Duncan, R-Lingle, said in a Thursday Facebook post about a mailer endorsing her. She made the post in response to a mailer sent out on her behalf, calling the ad “degrading” and appalling.
One particular ad used in several campaigns depicts a bulldog wearing a cowboy hat and adjoining text reading “All Hat, No Cattle.” The other side featured positive information about Duncan.
The mailers were sent out by the Western Conservatives PAC, an organization led by Colorado lobbyist John Karakoulakis.
“We’re educating voters against phony politicians,” Karakoulakis told Cowboy State Daily. “We’re looking at their record and taking that into account.”
Karakoulakis sent the political mailers to homes across Wyoming this week, defending moderate Republicans and opposing more conservative candidates. The PAC lists a Casper printing house that is not associated with its efforts as its contact address, which is legal.
State Rep. Bob Wharff, R-Evanston, was a target of Western Conservatives.
“They’re using good Republicans to bring other Republicans down,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
The ad describes Wharff as “a phony politician with a weak record,” criticizing him for his votes on parental rights, taxes and government spending.
On the back of the ad is an endorsement for Wharff’s opponent, incumbent State Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston. Wharff said he considers Schuler a friend, despite not always seeing eye-to-eye with her on certain topics.
“I absolutely have no idea who sent the mailer out,” Schuler said. “I am certainly disappointed. That’s not the way I operate. I just try to let people judge me based on what I’ve done and I don’t worry about the opponent.”
Wharff said the information provided in the mailers is false but might change the minds of less-informed voters.
The pro-Duncan mailer comes with a nearly identical design to Wharff’s, opposing her opponent Scott Smith, with the same bulldog graphic on one side and positive information for Duncan listed on the other.
Legal … But Ethical?
Outside PACs are not allowed to coordinate with candidates on their campaign efforts. Still, Duncan was upset.
“I don’t like it when it happens to me and I don’t approve of it for anyone else,” Duncan said. “It’s not cool, not cool at all.”
Duncan said politicians should take the high road and campaign on their own merits.
Karakoulakis said he had no response to such complaints.
One common trait among nearly all the targeted candidates is a favorable review from Wyoming Gun Owners, a Second Amendment lobbying group. Karakoulakis, who has lobbied for the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Magpul, had no comment on that commonality.
State Senate candidate and current Rep. Tom James, R-Green River, and his wife Jennifer James, who is running for a State House seat, also were targeted. The ad opposing Jennifer James featured a chihuahua instead of a bulldog like the others.
On Thursday, Western Conservatives ran a text message campaign for State Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, who is running for Secretary of State. There was no negative information provided about either of her opponents.
“Tara Nethercott is a true conservative who understands the importance of election security and integrity,” the message said.
Karl Allred, a House candidate from Evanston, was also opposed by Western Conservatives.
Karakoulakis said Allred has had two bankruptcies, so therefore, should not be trusted with managing government spending.
“I don’t think we can trust him with taxpayer money,” he said
Allred shot back against Western Conservatives on Facebook on Friday.
“Anyone being endorsed by Western Conservatives are anything but conservative,” he said. “You can easily check their liberal voting records. DO NOT BE FOOLED by the name.”
Allred, a Uinta County GOP committeeman, was a defendant in a lawsuit recently filed against his county party on behalf of Jon Conrad. Conrad is now running against Allred in House District 19. Wharff said he sees a connection to the mailers and this lawsuit, but a few different campaigns outside Uinta County were targeted.
The lawsuit was thrown out in July. Wharff said the county party spent $22,000 defending itself in the trial.
Karakoulakis said he has lobbied in Wyoming in the past but is not working with anyone from the state in this year’s election. The treasurer for his PAC, however, is Katie Kennedy, who is listed with a Wyoming phone number as her contact. She did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Karakoulakis said Western Conservatives is running ad campaigns across five Western states.
According to his Linkedin account, Karakoulakis was a lobbyist for the Denver branch of Holland and Hart LLP until March 2018. Holland and Hart is a prominent law firm in Wyoming, connected to many legislative activities.
Wharff suspects the “old guard” of the Republican Party is involved with these efforts.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where all the dots are connected,” Wharff said.