We are heading into another election cycle in 2024 and all indications are that this may be the most contentious and expensive campaign year ever from legislative races down through county, municipal and school boards.
During the 2022 election cycle, a Fremont citizen collected a significant amount for electioneering on both local and legislative races. The campaign marketing materials did not contain the “paid for by” as required by statute. The Fremont County Clerk and County Attorney advised her to create a PAC and complete the campaign finance reporting. With the explanation that the website requires a Treasurer and she did not have one, she did neither.
In Sheridan County, I created a mail campaign to encourage Republicans to vote for candidates running for precinct positions. That mailer originally indicated “paid for by Gail Symons.” After candidates offered to contribute, I changed the printing to reflect “paid for by candidates.” The county Republican Party filed a complaint against me with the Clerk and Attorney for not creating a PAC and reporting. In response, I created a PAC, enlisted another to be the Chairman with myself as Treasurer, filed the finance reports within the 10 day grace period and dissolved the PAC.
As a result of the Fremont County situation, the interim legislative Corporations Committee considered a draft bill to clarify the requirement for forming PACs and Reporting. The objective is to address inconsistencies in application of the statute, improve transparency and clarify requirements to the citizens.
At the final Corporations committee meeting, I testified on behalf of the draft bill and used my 2022 experience as evidence for the need to clarify the requirements so that others do not repeat the errors made.
Imagine my surprise upon seeing an article in the local Republican Party blog accusing me of telling people to shut up, making campaign finance more complex and being a foe of freedom of speech.
It even made up a little story that I want your Mom to be prosecuted for trying to get elected as precinct woman. Note: expenditures of less than $1000 remain exempt from reporting. The writer was anonymous; the poster was the same person who filed the complaint on the precinct mailing.
This is illustrative of a destructive challenge to the values that are foundational to the Wyoming that we love. The Code of the West includes “live each day with courage” and “know where to draw the line.”
The US Constitution protects freedom of Speech, Wyoming values requires us to own our words. These should not be mutually exclusive. We cannot hope to retain our identity if we passively accept the first without demanding the second.
How does this destructive challenge show up? It is on social media where nameless/faceless accounts take potshots at individuals and groups absent any supporting evidence or worse, are dead wrong. It is on anonymous websites “scoring” legislators absent any statistical or stated processes. It is in slick mailers funded by out-of-state dark money targeting elected officials with false statements on their voting records and values.
There was a very condescending statement by a “first amendment attorney” at the Corporations meeting that people were “saying the quiet part out loud” in objecting to “mean” speech. NO. Be as mean, nasty, negative, divisive as your freedom of speech allows and your values permit. But if you don’t OWN your words by putting your name to that speech, it is cowardice.
I urge everyone to always look for the name behind political communications. If there is no name, ask yourself why. What are they trying to hide? I recommend you assume it is lies, deception, and disinformation. These calculated approaches rely on the recipients not having the time or resources to fact check. In the case of the local GOP blog, the comment I included with the hyperlink and timestamp for my testimony has yet to be posted.
Political bushwhacking is not a Wyoming value.