By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
The Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office has completed a monthslong investigation into complaints of possible election code finance violations that include state Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Sheridan, and Johnson County Commissioner Bill Novotny.
Clint Beaver, a deputy prosecuting attorney for Sheridan County, told Cowboy State Daily on Monday morning the county has declined to pursue further action on the case.
The Sheriff’s Office began looking into the allegations based on a pair of separate complaints made in August about the activities of an unregistered political action committee. Beaver determined that because the PAC did not target people running for public office in Wyoming, the finance election laws don’t apply to it.
In a report detailing its probe, the Sheriff’s Office says it investigated what role, if any, Western and Novotny played in the Wyoming In Name Only PAC.
Sheridan County Sheriff Levi Dominguez told Cowboy State Daily his department has completed all investigations on the matter.
The PAC never registered with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office or the Federal Election Commission but was active during the primary election cycle in Johnson and Sheridan counties, the report says.
Wyoming law requires all PACs that participate in elections must register with either the state or federal election offices.
The complaints were prompted by a Wyoming In Name Only mailer that was sent to 7,118 Johnson and Sheridan addresses in August targeting four people.
Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Boot Hill did the investigation and found that someone paid a Florida political consulting firm $5,338.50 to design the mailer, called the “Western WY attack howdy.”
The mailer was designed to look like an Old West wanted poster featuring the mugshots of four people described as “conservative imposters.”
The people were “Wanted,” the mailer says, “for trying to tear our state apart.”
Allegations were also made that paying for the mailer wasn’t reported by any campaign, according to the investigative report.
Following The Breadcrumbs
Cowboy State Daily obtained a copy of the report, in which Hill recounts he spoke to Western at least two times as part of his investigation.
A Sheridan address belonging to the Wyoming Corporation Office was listed as a point of contact for the PAC. This business operates as a management and mail forwarding service for limited liability corporations in Wyoming.
The Wyoming In Name Only group also is not registered as a business in Wyoming.
After exhausting this avenue, Hill then contacted the Salt Lake City agency that printed the fliers, which referred him to a Florida consulting company, Majority Strategies, which designed the mailer, he writes in his report.
Novotny Paid For It
Through a search warrant for Majority Strategies, Hill writes that he found that Novotny paid $5,338.50 for the mailer on Sept. 27. The envelope addressed to Majority Strategies did not have a sender’s name, only a return address for a Big Horn post office box. The U.S. Postal Service said the box belongs to Western.
When Hill asked Western if he was involved with the PAC, the legislator declined to answer directly without his lawyer present.
“I really fully appreciate you’re trying to do your job and so, I can appreciate and respect that, but … I just, um, want to speak with speak/chat with my attorney and if I’m going to chat with you, I want to kinda just have him there,” Western said, according to the investigative report.
Western said he might be able to speak to the deputy about the matter “in a couple of weeks,” but said he was free to reach out to his attorney immediately.
When contacted by Cowboy State Daily, Western said that he has been advised by his legal counsel to offer no comment about the investigation.
“Per the advice of my legal counsel, I can’t say anything,” Western said.
The ad attacked the four for being relatively new Wyoming residents who were “trying to tear our state apart.”
Many Wyoming newcomers have run for political office in recent years representing a more conservative wing of the Republican Party.
“We just moved to Wyoming because we thought it was just the best,” the ad remarks sarcastically on behalf of Jeff Wallack, Laurie Bratten, Kristen Jennings and Jimmy Dee Lees. “Now, we want to tell you how to vote while spreading hate and discontent.
“Don’t let us dime store cowboys ruin your way of life. Even we know that’s not the Wyoming way.”
Western won a close Republican primary election over Bryan Miller, edging him by 137 votes. Miller is chairman of the Sheridan County Republican Party.
Acting On Complaints
Bennett had directed the Sheriff’s Office to look into the mailer after receiving a complaint from Sheridan County Republican Party State Committeeman Tod Windsor made to the Sheridan County clerk. Bratten, one of the mailer’s targets, also made a complaint based on similar allegations.
All four of the people in the Wanted poster served on Wallack’s Wyoming Is Right PAC, which declined to endorse Western in the primary election.
“I told him (Western) … ‘We have a record of your votes, we know you won’t vote pure conservative,’” Wallack said.
Wallack, a conservative talk radio host in Sheridan, was the only one of the group running for public office. He ran to be a Sheridan County Republican Party committeeman.
“Who are the cowards hiding behind a fake, unregistered PAC that would send a political hit mailer on four individuals not running for public office?” Wallack questioned in an August Cowboy State Daily story.
But it was the determination of the Sheridan County Attorney’s office that neither Wallack or the other three were running for public office, so the related elections laws did not apply to the campaign mailer.
“A review of the Wyoming Election Code indicates that party precinctmen and precintwomen do not hold a “public office” as that term is used in Wyoming law,” Beaver wrote in the decision letter.
Follow The Money
In his investigation, Hill determined that Novotny runs Future307 Consulting, which is based in Buffalo. Novotny also runs the similarly named Future307 PAC.
On Sept. 22, the Friends of Cyrus Western campaign group gave the Future307 PAC $5,200 for political consulting. This was $188.50 less than what was delivered to Majority Strategies for the mailers.
The Western campaign also made three separate payments to Majority Strategies in July for a total $10,631, the investigative report says.
Although the Friends of Cyrus Western Campaign reported giving the money to Future307, Future 307 did not report receiving it in its campaign finance report.
An Earlier Incident
In July 2021, Novotny was arrested on suspicion of driving while under the influence, reckless driving, fleeing or attempting to elude police and having an open container in the vehicle.
It was determined that he had driven for 30 miles on the wrong side of the interstate, moving against traffic between Buffalo and Sheridan, eluding police with a 0.187% blood alcohol content.
He pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and attempting to elude police in the fall of 2021.
At the time of the arrest, Novotny was vice president of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association. He’s now president of the organization.
Novotny did not respond to a Cowboy State Daily request for comment.
Hill says in his report that he made multiple calls to Novotny that were not returned.
Novotny’s attorney spoke with Hill and speculated that if his client were to speak with the deputy, he would likely say that although Western may have been a client of his firm, the legislator had no personal involvement in the WINO PAC.
Hill tried speaking with Western on Jan. 4, six days before the start of the 67th Legislature. Western told Hill that based on the advice of his lawyer, he had no comment.
“Cyrus advised he understood Deputy Hill was just doing his job but did not think it was best to answer any questions and advised Deputy Hill to contact his attorney,” Hill wrote in his report.
Dominguez said elections-related complaints made to his office have become more common in recent years.
“Over the last few election cycles, we’ve had complaints that we’ve had to investigate,” he said.