By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
A candidate running for the Wyoming Legislature who said he would look to cut Wyoming’s reliance on the federal government if elected, has accepted more than $1.7 million in government dollars from 2020-2021.
The $1,755,158 in funds House District 20 Republican candidate Mike Schmid accepted came through federal COVID-19 relief subsidy programs. This district encompasses Sublette and Lincoln counties in Southwest Wyoming.
A recent report from WyoFile revealed that many politicians in Wyoming, including some who espoused anti-government-spending platforms and opposition to accepting federal COVID-19 relief funding, received these same subsidies for their own businesses.
Schmid took in significantly more government funding than any elected official who opposed these measures.
The majority of Schmid’s government funding came from two loans he was forgiven on through the Small Business Administration, for his SOS Well Services LLC company. He received $858,677 for the Michigan branch of his business, for which he is still listed as an owner, and $681,215 for the Wyoming operations of SOS, which are based in his hometown of La Barge. He also received $192,718 through the Wyoming Business Relief Program, which was created by the state of Wyoming through CARES Act dollars.
Schmid also received $22,548 through his Solitude Ranch and Outfitters (SRO) business based in Devils Tower.
“The PPP funds for SRO helped to keep this business operational,” Schmid said in a statement submitted Tuesday morning, where he confirmed the loan numbers.
In his statement, Schmid said accepting federal funds is a necessary step to cope with the rule of the federal government.
“Ultimately, I fail to recognize any legitimate reason SOS Well Services, LLC or Solitude Ranch & Outfitters, LLC receipt of PPP funds has been made an issue by the press and in clumsy fashion tied to my conservative platform in my bid to serve House District 20, but then again perhaps I do understand,” he said.
Forty-two jobs were supported through the Wyoming side of this business and 54 were supported for the SOS operations in Michigan.
“SOS currently employs some 55 people who contribute substantially to the financial stability of our communities in HD 20,” Schmid said in a written statement. “Having been in business for nearly 40 years, SOS has never sought the benefit of government programs, except for PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) funds in 2020-2021, which was a necessary step to keep the business operational and to make payroll. SRO has been in business for 20 years and has never sought the benefit of government programs either.”
Schmid said the virus and the resulting government shutdowns were a devastating blow to Wyoming and his businesses. He said these shutdowns led to a 45% decline in revenue for SOS. With an annual payroll of $3.6 million, Schmid said he was unable to pay salaries, health insurance and employee-based taxes.
“PPP funds directly saved jobs in our company, and the money received went specifically for that purpose,” he said.
He said he was humbled to see his unmarried employees and married employees without children volunteer their jobs over to co-workers with children. Schmid said he will carry this lesson of selflessness with him forever, but the PPP loans made these courageous acts unnecessary, and no jobs were lost.
“I absolutely believe that receiving these funds is consistent with my conservative values,” Schmid said. “Most companies small and large deservedly received PPP funds.”
Schmid said even with these funds, his businesses still lost money.
During a July 21 forum in Sublette County, Schmid said Wyoming needs to move away from accepting federal funds.
“I have to ask the question, how do we manage our own state, our own destiny and our own future, by continuing to grab every federal dollar that we can get a hold of,” he said during the forum. “Every time we take another dollar from the federal government, they have more and more control of us. We have to find a way to wean ourselves off those federal dollars.”
Schmid is running against incumbent Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale. Sommers said businesses deserved to accept federal relief funds and his ranch accepted “tens of thousands” of these federal COVID-19 agriculture grant dollars.
Schmid said Sommers, who also considers himself conservative, receives substantial annual payments for cattle losses sustained due to large carnivore depredation.
“I do not fault him for this at all, because government policies have similarly resulted in direct financial losses to his business,” Schmid said.
Sommers said Wyoming wouldn’t be able to survive without the federal funding it receives for its highways, nursing homes, hospitals, public education and other critical industries.
“We rely on the federal government for infrastructure,” he said. “Without that, we wouldn’t have an economy. Wyoming is heavily subsidized by the government.”
Schmid is a former member of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission. He was removed from that board by Gov. Mark Gordon in 2021 after engaging in internal disputes with other members.
“I wasn’t a good enough team player I was told by a fellow commissioner which evidently made it hard for the commission to carry a consistent message,” he said in a Facebook post at the time. “It was also stated that my role as a commissioner and freedoms as an American were too conflicting.”
During the July forum, Schmid made a particular point about people appointed to boards who make decisions about accepting federal funds. He said more of these positions need to be elected by the people rather than through appointments.
Sommers said although he did support the initial CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act programs, he thinks the government should’ve given more hesitation to approving the recent $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and other measures. He said the state should scrutinize the “strings” attached to every federal funding opportunity it considers.
“We should say no if the strings are too great,” he said.
Many in Wyoming’s oil and tourism industries accepted funds. Many Wyoming politicians also accepted thousands of dollars in COVID-19 relief.
Rep. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie, one of the state’s most conservative legislators, accepted around $484,000 through a Small Business Administration PPP loan for his On The Hook food truck business. This past legislature, he voted against Senate File 66, which designated how American Rescue Plan Act funds would be disbursed in the state.
According to WyoFile, Andrew was one of nine representatives who voted against SF 66 and also accepted COVID-19 relief money from the federal government to support their businesses or nonprofits.
Another one of these legislators was Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, who accepted a total of $117,000 in loans for his dry cleaning business.
Sommers voted for SF 66.
Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland also voted to support the bill. He is CEO of Wyoming Sugar Company, which took in nearly $2 million in PPP relief money.
John Sundahl, husband of U.S. House candidate Harriet Hageman, took out five loans to support his law firm for a total of around $130,000. Hageman has railed against government spending during her campaign.