Infighting Cuts Into Wyoming GOP Dominance In Raising Money

in News/Legislature/politics

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By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter

Wyoming’s Democratic and Republican parties are surprisingly competitive when it comes to the money at their disposal entering the homestretch of the general election season.

As of Aug. 31, the Democratic Party had $71,613 in its coffers, according to its Sept. 20 Federal Election Commission filing. In a similar filing, the Wyoming GOP reported $73,006, just $1,393 more than the Dems. 

Bob Ferguson, state GOP treasurer, said his party’s balance was only a portion of the money the party had at that time, as it also files a separate state-level finance report. At the party’s Central Committee meeting Sept. 17, officials reported having $119,000 in the bank. But since that meeting, Ferguson told Cowboy State Daily on Friday morning that the GOP has likely had more expenses than donations.

Although Republicans still have more money at their disposal, it is not by a large margin as many might expect in a state where one party holds an overwhelming majority. In the primary election, 94% of voters registered as Republicans. Most recent state-level and federal general election races in Wyoming have seen Republicans get about 70% to 75% of the vote.

Legal Expenses

The state GOP has been weighed down by a handful of lawsuits over the past few years that have proved costly for its efforts to support candidates in general elections.

At the Sept. 17 GOP meeting in Riverton, the party discussed the lawsuits and their impact on the party’s overall financial picture.

“If you want to figure out where the money for candidates went, that’s $80,000 right there because of that shortfall in revenues and our exorbitant legal expenses,” said Corey Steinmetz, a national committeeman for the state party.

The party spent $42,000 on lawsuits over the past year.

The Natrona County GOP sued the Wyoming GOP for the procedure it used to adopt bylaws in 2020 that require each county party to pay its dues or risk losing delegates at the state party’s convention. Natrona was only allowed to seat the minimum at the party’s convention in Sheridan in May. 

The case was dismissed in District Court but has been appealed to the Wyoming Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the court approved extending the deadline that the Natrona and state GOP can submit their arguments until Nov. 2.

A lawsuit involving the Uinta County GOP also is costing the state party money. 

In this case, a group of constituents that includes state Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, Rep. Danny Eyre, R-Lyman, and former Rep. Ron Micheli, argued that the county party is governed exclusively by the state election code and violated it when electing officers in 2021. 

The case was dismissed by the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office and in District Court, but has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.

State Rep. Bob Wharff, R-Evanston, said the county party already spent $22,000 defending itself in the case.

Also draining the party’s coffers is a lawsuit filed in January by former Wyoming House Speaker and Campbell County Committeeman Tom Lubnau over the process the party used to select finalists for an interim superintendent of public instruction. Cody resident Brian Schroeder was ultimately selected for this position.

The party used the same voting process last weekend in its appointment of Karl Allred, delegating equal votes to each county party.

Dues Withheld

The state GOP also lost money because of the Natrona and Laramie county GOP parties withholding annual dues in response to disagreements about the state party’s policies and actions. Natrona and Laramie owe a combined $37,000.

Ferguson said at the mid-September meeting that it costs about $11,000 per month for the party to run operations and pay staff, leaving the belt tight through the end of the fiscal year in summer 2023. 

Money For And By Candidates

Coming out of the Sept. 17 meeting, the state GOP planned to give $19,000 to candidates around the state. This will likely be bolstered by $27,500 the Crook County Republican Party announced raising for official candidates statewide at last weekend’s meeting. The county party’s staff were vague about where the money came from, other than “from the people.” 

To put the $27,500 sum in perspective, the Crook County GOP has paid $3,000 to the state GOP so far this year.

Jeff Burian, a Crook County GOP committeeman, said the new money will not go to write-in candidate Roger Connett, a former chairman of the county party.

Marti Halverson, chairman of the Lincoln County Republican Party, also announced last weekend that her party will give $1,000 to the state GOP. 

Spending Gap

When it comes to actual spending on candidates, there will still be a severe gap between the state Democratic and Republican parties.

David Martin, a spokesperson for Wyoming Democrats, said the party does not plan to give any money to individual candidates this year.

“We offer a variety of services like voter data and canvassing information as well other programs to candidates at heavily subsidized rates through our coordinated campaign,” he said. 

Martin mentioned how the voter data service the party uses would cost a candidate several thousand dollars, but they get access to this service at a much lower one-time fee.

Higher-Level Offices

Democrat candidates for state and federal offices in Wyoming have been grossly outspent so far by their Republican opponents in the upcoming November election. 

U.S. Congress candidate Lynette Grey Bull has raised $11,012 for her campaign through late July, while her Republican opponent Harriet Hageman has raised $4.4 million within her immediate campaign committee alone. In the race for governor, Gov. Mark Gordon raised $541,577, while his Democratic challenger Theresa Livingston raised $1,702.

The only Democratic state Legislature candidate to spend and raise significant sums in the primary was Liz Storer of Jackson, who raised $32,870 and spent $21,415.

Democratic candidates have been giving money to the party rather than the other way around. 

Ted Hanlon, running for Senate District 5 in Cheyenne, gave $1,050 to the party over the course of August. Marguerite Herman, running in House District 11, also in Cheyenne, gave $550. Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, gave $500 on Aug. 18. Leesa Kuhlman, running for Senate District 18 in Rock Springs, gave $745. Livingston has given $200 since late July. 

The party also has been bolstered by $22,000 from the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund political action committee Aug. 25.

State-level finance information for political parties will be released 10 days after the Nov. 8 general election.

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