By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan is contesting a recent federal court ruling that allowed the firearms advocacy group Wyoming Gun Owners to keep a list of its contributors private.
Buchanan and the state attorney general’s office on Friday notified the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals of the state’s intent to challenge the ruling narrowing the spectrum of entities that need to declare political campaign expenditures in the Cowboy State.
In March, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl ruled the state could not force Wyoming Gun Owners to share the names of its donors.
No arguments were made in the half-page appeal of Skavdahl’s ruling filed with the court in Denver. The secretary of state’s office declined to comment on the appeal.
“Go To Hell”
However, Aaron Dorr, policy advisor for Wyoming Gun Owners, said the appeal showed state officials are not paying attention to the wishes of their constituents.
“Ed Buchanan and the political elites in Cheyenne aren’t getting the message,” Dorr told Cowboy State Daily. “They didn’t listen when gun owners threw their anti-gun RINO (Republican In Name Only) friends out of office in 2020. They didn’t listen when Wyoming Gun Owners told them to go to hell when they demanded a list of our donors.”
Dorr said WyGO welcomes the chance to argue its case in appeals court.
“Maybe they’ll listen when we beat them again in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals,” Dorr said. “WyGO looks forward to the chance to invalidate this entire unconstitutional law to cast a much broader legal precedent.”
Ruling Sets Precedent
In an interview with Cowboy State Daily Monday morning, Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) said the ruling sets a precedent for any charitable nonprofit organization that takes part in an election. He added Wyoming Gun Owners is being specifically targeted because it is a pro-gun rights group.
Bouchard said the NAACP was targeted in a similar way during the civil rights movement of the late 1950s by the State of Alabama, and won its case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It’s not surprising in their quest for power,” Bouchard said of the state’s appeal. “They don’t want opposing opinions. They don’t want people to know what they’re doing. This doesn’t just affect gun owners. Want to have a list of people who contribute to a gun group? This is a gun registration.”
The action stems from to Buchanan’s determination that during the campaign of 2020, a $1,200 radio ad WyGO issued in support of Bouchard amounted to “campaign electioneering.”
The ad portrayed Bouchard as a champion of Second Amendment rights while calling his opponent for the state Senate, Erin Johnson, “pathetic” because she did not mention gun rights on her website.
Under state law, any group spending more than $500 on “electioneering communication” must report all contributions of $100 or more “related to” the communication.
Bouchard argued the advertisement did not qualify as “campaign electioneering” because it did not urge listeners to vote for or against either candidate.
But the state disagreed and decided WyGO had violated state election laws. The organization was fined $500 as a result.
WyGO paid the fine, but appealed the ruling to federal court, where Skavdahl ruled it would be too difficult to determine which contributions to WyGO were used to pay for political ads and which were used for other purposes.
“There is no way to determine, under the current statutory language, what goods, services, or promised expenditures are sufficiently ‘related to’ electioneering communications,” Skavdahl wrote. “Based upon its current language, the statute could also encompass many more, indirectly related expenditures.”
Skavdahl said the law itself was unconstitutional because of how vaguely it was written.
Bouchard said the secretary of state’s fine against WyGO, which he founded, showed the state is selectively enforcing its laws and selected WyGO as an easy target.
“There are all these pretend organizations that pop up behind registered agents,” he said. “Nobody investigates them. Those are the people that help the establishment.”
The Legislature, during its budget session earlier this year, approved a bill aimed at expanding the “electioneering communication” law.
It clarified “electioneering communication” to mean any public political advertising and said any expenses or contributions of $1,000 or more for this purpose must be reported. The bill, which was signed into law in March by Gov. Mark Gordon, also said internal communications would not count as electioneering communication.
The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office and Deputy Attorney General Brandi Monger are representing Buchanan, Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler, Election Division Director Kai Schon and state Attorney General Bridget Hill in the case.