Guilty by association? That’s what Wyoming Freedom Caucus State Director Jessie Rubino asserts against the political group’s rival, the Wyoming Caucus, for accepting a donation from a pro-choice plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit challenging the state’s new laws prohibiting abortion in most circumstances.
Rubino is the Wyoming state director for the State Freedom Caucus Network, the Washington, D.C.-based umbrella group for the Freedom Caucus.
The donor is Cheyenne resident and Laramie School District 1 Board Trustee Rene Hinkle, who gave $1,000 to the Wyoming Caucus political action committee on Nov. 20.
“It couldn’t be any more obvious — if you are supported by pro-aborts, you are not conservative,” Rubino wrote in a post on her personal Facebook page last week.
Rubino doubled down when contacted by Cowboy State Daily on Monday.
“It speaks volumes that the Wyoming Caucus PAC’s major donors include abortion activists actively suing to kill babies,” Rubino said.
Abortion And Being Republican
Hinkle, an OB/GYN who considers herself pro-choice, said she has been a registered Republican since becoming legal age to vote and that her stance on a single issue doesn’t conflict with her overall identity as a Republican.
“The group of Republicans that started the Wyoming Caucus and those of us who have joined it have decided that we don’t want a state or local Republican Party to dictate what we think or how we vote or how we feel about every issue,” Hinkle said.
The Wyoming Caucus formed largely in part as a counterbalance to the Freedom Caucus, a contingency of far-right Wyoming Republicans. The Freedom Caucus is growing in influence with the Wyoming GOP, which has taken a hardline stance in recent years and attacks Republican legislators it believes are not enough in line with the party line.
But even those in the Republican Party who demand a strict adherence to the party’s platform to be considered a Republican have generally given some leeway to stray on 20% of the issues.
“I think it’s one of those things that we as Americans, despite what party we’re in, still have the right to have our own beliefs,” Hinkle said. “Having a Republican Party you have to follow every single idea that they have is un-American, in my opinion,” Hinkle said.
State Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, is one of the leading members of the Wyoming Caucus. He said Rubino’s conclusions are not representative of his caucus members.
“The Wyoming Caucus is perhaps a bigger tent than the Freedom Caucus,” he said. “The Wyoming Caucus doesn’t change what it stands for based on the beliefs of any particular donor.”
Also donating $500 to the Wyoming Caucus was Cody resident Kelly Jensen, former director of philanthropy of Planned Parenthood of Montana.
How Did The Caucus Vote On Abortion?
During the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers passed by an overwhelming margin House Bill 152, known as the Life is a Human Right Act, legislation that bans most forms of abortion in Wyoming.
Members of the Freedom Caucus have expressed universal support for banning abortion in Wyoming.
Stith, who considers himself pro-life, voted against HB 152 when it passed the House but voted to support it when it returned to the House on concurrence.
Of the 19 Republican state legislators who donated to the Wyoming Caucus in 2023, only two voted against HB 152 on its final reading in their respective chamber. Rep. Andrew Byron, R-Jackson, who donated to the Wyoming Caucus and voted against HB 152 on its third reading in the House, was excused from the final vote in his chamber.
“I think members of the caucus overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Life is a Human Right Act,” Stith said. “I think generally speaking, they’re conservative.”
None of the 19 donors voted against a separate bill that made it unlawful for any person to prescribe, dispense, distribute, sell or use any drug to procure or perform an abortion in most situations. This law has also been paused by the same lawsuit challenging HB 152.
Will Draw The Line
Stith said the Wyoming Caucus will not blindly support a donation from anyone and will reject money from donors the group’s leaders see as particularly reprehensible.
He also said the Wyoming Caucus will never solicit donations from Democrats.
But it was a recently former registered Democrat who gave the caucus its largest donation of 2023 in Cody resident and Park County School District 6 Board of Trustee Jessica Case, who gave $20,000 to its PAC.
According to voter registration records provided to Cowboy State Daily, Case was registered as a Democrat as recently as 2020, but changed her party affiliation to Republican by 2021.
Case also signed a petition objecting to teachers being allowed to carry firearms in schools at Park County School District 6.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.