Chuck Gray Says Complaints Against Rep. Cyrus Western Have “Merit,” Forwards To Wyoming AG

Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray said Tuesday he believes four election finance complaints made about a mailer allegedly sent by state Rep. Cyrus Western last summer have merit. He’s forwarded them to Attorney General Bridget Hill.

Leo Wolfson

March 29, 20234 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Four formal complaints made on a 2022 political mailer allegedly organized by state Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn, have made their way to the desk of Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Chuck Gray announced his office has forwarded the complaints to Hill’s office, determining they have “merit” and should be investigated. 

“I am deeply troubled and concerned by the use of these mailers as a means to thwart the Wyoming Election Code and violate Title 22,” Gray wrote in his decision letter. 

Title 22 is the section of Wyoming law pertaining to elections.

Joe Rubino, chief policy officer and general counsel for the Secretary of State’s office, said the announcement came in response to requests from “numerous (media) outlets” and “several media inquiries” about the complaints and how the office was handling them.

Once the Secretary of State’s office determines a complaint has merit, it is then sent to the Attorney General’s office to investigate and decide if prosecution is warranted.

State Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn, left, and Johnson County Commissioner Bill Novotny, right, and the “wanted” poster mailer.

The Mailer

The political action committee listed on the mailer never registered with the 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 to register with either the state or federal election offices. A PAC also must list the source of its finances and political candidates must list their total spending, including any PACs they donate to.

The Sheridan County Attorney’s Office investigated the mailer this winter and says it found evidence tying Western and Johnson County Commissioner Bill Novotny to the project.

Allegations were made that paying for the mailer wasn’t reported by any campaign and was the work of an unregistered political action committee, conclusions Gray also agrees with.

But the Sheridan County Attorney’s office opted to not file charges, primarily citing lack of jurisdiction and that no one in the mailer was running for public office as considered by Wyoming law, so the advertisement cannot count as electioneering. 

The mailer was designed to look like an Old West wanted poster featuring the mugshots of four people described as “conservative imposters.” They are Sheridan County residents Jeff Wallack, Laurie Bratten, Kristen Jennings and Jimmy Dee Lees.

Only one of the four people targeted in the mailer, Wallack, was running in an election in 2022, to be a Sheridan County Republican Party precinct committeeman. Jennings, daughter of staunchly conservative state Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, is a Sheridan City Council member, but was not running for reelection.

Wallack and Bratten filed three of the four complaints against Western.

The four were “Wanted,” the mailer says, “for trying to tear our state apart” and instructs the reader to vote against them.

Reasons For ‘Merit’

Gray said “there is evidence to suggest” the mailer could count as “electioneering communication” because of its reference to a candidate for precinct committeeman.

He also made the claim that the combination of a request to “vote no” and the design and the Old West-themed font in the mailer guided the reader to vote against Western’s primary opponent.

This last claim wasn’t spelled out in the original complaint, which claimed that Western didn’t register with the PAC and the source of the mailer was concealed. Western’s primary opponent, Bryan Miller, also isn’t mentioned in the mailer.

Western told Cowboy State Daily last week that “there is more to the story, but at the advice of my legal counsel I can’t say much more to that.”

He declined to offer further comment in response to Gray’s letter.

Miller is chairman of the Sheridan County GOP. Miller and Gray are both aligned as members of the hardline conservative faction of the Wyoming Republican Party.

Miller recently supported a measure brought by the party earlier this month to censure Western because of the mailer. 

The censure also called for Western’s resignation. Western told Cowboy State Daily last week he doesn’t plan to resign.

 “The county GOP is after anyone who doesn’t take their marching orders,” Western said. “The voters always deserve the last word.”

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter