Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Cowboy State Politics podcaster David Iverson said Rep. Barry Crago becomes combative with people who disagree with him, not that Crago doesn't engage with people who disagree with him in public settings. Also, a typographical error in a quote by Iverson referencing the Silence Dogood Letters also has been corrected.
Those hiding behind a cloak of anonymity continue to make waves in Wyoming political circles.
The latest example is an anonymous political mailer sent to many Johnson County homes criticizing Buffalo Republican state Rep. Barry Crago’s voting record.
The lengthy, two-sided mailer provides a “report card” of Crago’s performance from the 2023 legislative session based on 10 subjects, ranging from his votes on specific bills to broader items like “Voting Record with Democrats.”
The mailer accuses Crago of not holding true to his campaign promises and says the Wyoming Legislature overall is run “by a bunch of lunatic liberals.”
Crago said he’s not above criticism, but finds it frustrating when people attack his voting record then don’t say who they are. He believes the mailer is a “smear campaign” because nobody will put a name to it.
“I just thought it was cowardly and full of lies, obviously,” Crago said.
No organization is listed as producing the mailer, nor is there any mailing address connected to the literature beyond “Local Postal Customer.”
Like other anonymous political commentary such as WyoRINO.com, the mailer accuses its targets of not being conservative enough and hiding behind being Republicans. The source of the mailer identifies as someone who is tired of being lied to by representatives who claim they are Republicans but really are Democrats and aren’t honest about their voting records.
Crago spoke at a Natrona County Republican Party event last week that was held to allow the owner of WyoRINO to debate the merits of the site. The owner did not participate.
“In Wyoming, I always thought if we want to talk somebody about the way they vote you just pick up the phone and call them or ask to meet them, we don’t send out anonymous mailers that can’t even be responded to,” Crago said.
The mailer accuses Crago of blocking communications from people who don’t agree with him. Others like conservative Cowboy State Politics podcast host David Iverson have said that Crago becomes combative with people who disagree with him on issues. Iverson played recorded examples of this on his Monday podcast.
Who Could It Be?
No other candidates or politicians are named in the literature, and it doesn’t advocate support for other officials or candidates in the next election cycle. Crago said he plans to run for reelection in 2024.
Republican Richard Tass, 77, ran against Crago in 2022, but said he doesn’t plan to run again, otherwise he’d “be too much like Mr. (President Joe) Biden.”
Tass said although he doesn’t believe Crago is as conservative as he makes himself out to be and doesn’t like his voting record, he wasn’t behind the mailer and doesn’t know who made it. He said people supporting Crago put out similar mailers against him in 2022.
Iverson, a Buffalo resident who has been critical of Crago’s voting record, said he doesn’t know who created the mailer but finds Crago’s comments criticizing anonymity incredulous.
“Though I didn’t have anything to do with the recent mailer, Rep. Crago’s comments are nothing short of preposterous,” Iverson said. “Anonymous political commentary has a long history in this country and goes back to before the Constitution.
“I’m not surprised that Mr. Crago has forgotten the importance of the Federalist Papers or that he evidently considers The Silence Dogood letters to be cowardly.”
Is It Electioneering?
It is unlawful to pay for any campaign literature or campaign advertising in Wyoming without clearly displaying or including the organization that paid for the publication within the media. Wyoming law also requires any organization that receives contributions or expends more than $1,000 for electioneering efforts to register with the Secretary of State’s office.
Crago is unsure if the mailer qualifies as electioneering but believes these laws should be clarified in the Legislature.
The question of what counts as electioneering became the source of a lawsuit between Second Amendment advocacy group Wyoming Gun Owners (WyGO) and the Secretary of State’s office. In 2022, a district court judge ruled that the state unjustly fined WyGO for failing to disclose its donors as a group spending more than $500 on “electioneering communication.”
A semi-anonymous mailer was put out in Sheridan County in 2022 that targeted four people, none of which were running for public political office, but one who was then a current office holder. The political action committee that claimed responsibility for the mailer wasn’t registered with the state.
It was the determination of the Sheridan County Attorney’s office that since none of the targets were running for public office, elections-related laws did not apply to the campaign mailer.
A separate complaint was filed with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office and Secretary of State Chuck Gray found merit to the complaint, forwarding the case to the Attorney General’s office. In August, the Wyoming Republican Party censured Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn, for his alleged role in organizing the mailer.
“The difference there was nobody was running for office and I’m not right now either,” Crago said.
Crago said he reached out to Gray about the new mailer and is awaiting his interpretation of the law.
Gray told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that his office will thoroughly investigate any complaint filed with it, but to date none have been filed on the Crago mailer. He declined to comment about its legality.
“Any determination would be highly fact-intensive, and it is impossible to render a determination without complete information,” he said.
The mailer accuses Crago of receiving most of his 2022 campaign funding from “liberal” donor groups. A handful of PACs that gave to Crago’s campaign also donated to Democratic candidates, but there is no evidence to show that these types of donations made up the majority of his funding.
The mailer also compares Crago’s voting record against what the creator of the mailer believes were the wishes of his donors. In all but two of the categories, it says Crago receives an A+ with his “liberal” donors. But when it comes to his grades with voters, the report card gives him an F in every category but one.
The lone exception was Crago’s votes on a bill prohibiting transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports, a bill that he co-sponsored, and the mailer gave him a C+ there. He also was a lead sponsor on his own version of the bill.
Although Crago supported the law, according to the mailer it was “very watered down restrictions on men competing in women’s sports” and “effectively leaves it up to bureaucrats to decide” whether an athlete can compete or not in a sport.
None of the hardline conservative legislators in the Legislature voted against the bill. The "bureaucrats" that the mailer appears to refer to would only get involved if the legislation is challenged and determined to be unconstitutional in a court of law. No lawsuits have been filed against the legislation that went into effect on July 1.
The mailer also accuses Crago of voting against the Life Is A Human Right Act, which prohibited most forms of abortion in Wyoming. Crago voted against the bill in committee and supported amendments made to the bill on the House floor that made it more limited. Although he voted for the final version that was passed, the mailer still gives him an F.
Evidencebasedwyoming.com rated Crago the 17th least conservative Republican in the House out of 57 Republicans, a ranking the website opines as “very liberal.” The mailer gave Crago an F for that rating.
The mailer also teases a follow up piece of literature where it will explain why Crago voted the way he did during the 2023 legislative session and a summary of his campaign donors.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.