Wyoming Second Amendment Group Fined By State For Election Violation Wins Appeal

The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Wyoming Gun Owners on Wednesday, which was fined over a provocative radio ad aired during the 2020 election cycle. The court ruled the election law the group was fined for is too vague.

LW
Leo Wolfson

October 12, 20233 min read

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is located in the Byron White Courthouse in Denver.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is located in the Byron White Courthouse in Denver. (Library of Congress)

Saying some of Wyoming’s laws on reporting election spending are too vague, the federal U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a Wyoming Gun Owners challenge of a 2020 fine issued by the Secretary of State’s office over a provocative radio ad the group ran in the 2020 election cycle.

In its Wednesday ruling, U.S. Circuit Judge Timothy Tymkovich wrote in his opinion that the state’s requirement that expenditures for political speech “related to” candidate campaigns is too vague to enforce.

“Wyoming owes its citizens precision,” Tymkovich wrote.

Wyoming Gun Owners said it’s happy with the decision.

“Now the 10th Circuit has made it clear that Wyoming’s disclosure regime is unconstitutional because it is not narrowly tailored,” said Aaron Dorr, policy advisor for the group via Facebook on Wednesday. “Maybe the state will listen to them!”

What’s This About?

The state fined WyGO in 2020 for failing to disclose donors as a group spending more than $500 on “electioneering communication,” a penalty the group disputed in court.

In a 2022 ruling in favor of WyGO, U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl said the election law itself is unconstitutional because of how vaguely it’s written.

Although the law allows WyGO to use its own bookkeeping, what drew the attention of the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office was when the group couldn’t provide specifics on which funds and donors contributed to a radio ad it put out during the 2020 election cycle. 

Former Secretary of State Ed Buchanan appealed Skavdahl’s decision a few months later to seek clarification on how the state should enforce election rules.

WyGO filed a cross-appeal a few weeks later.

The Decision

The 10th Circuit agreed with Skavdahl on all but two issues and agreed that the election office’s suggestion that WyGO disclose all its donations from a given election cycle is not required by law. The appeals court agreed with most, but not all, of WyGO’s claims.

The Denver-based appeals panel found the group was entitled to seek pre-enforcement relief for email content and gave approval for WyGO to seek reimbursement for its attorney’s fees from the state.

U.S. Circuit Judge Timothy Tymkovich rendered his opinion around WyGO’s organizational structure, saying the state’s requirement

What It Means

The Wyoming Legislature, during its budget session in 2022, approved a bill aimed at expanding the electioneering communication law in direct response to the WyGO lawsuit. It clarified “electioneering communication” to mean any public political advertising and that any expenses or contributions of $1,000 or more for this purpose must be reported.

Dorr called the court win a “massive victory” for the First and Second amendments and members of WyGO “who are eagerly looking forward to exposing RINOs (Republicans in name only) during the 2024 election cycle!”

Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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LW

Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter