The proposed law addresses a reporting “loophole” that was identified after an informal group of people in Fremont County pooled their money to purchase a political advertisement during a recent election.
Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese said the group that paid for the ad didn’t file as a Political Action Committee as required because they didn’t have a chairperson or a treasurer – two officers that must be identified on the filing form.
So she brought the issue to Fremont County Attorney Pat LeBrun, who told her that, if the group didn’t have a chairperson or a treasurer, “you can’t make them file.”
“So there I sat, not being able to do it,” Freese told the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee during a meeting his month. “They’re not going to file.”
The bill draft the committee passed this month lets informal groups like the one in Fremont County file as organizations instead of PACs.
The proposal also waives filing requirements for those groups as long as all members are identified on the “electioneering communication” – or, in other words, “if they put up an ad (and they all) sign it,” Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander said.
“The principle here is, disclosure is a good idea,” Case said. “We care who’s spending money to influence elections. … It’s in the public interest for fair and open and honest elections.”
By contrast, he continued, “it’s not in the public interest to allow (a) loophole” in Wyoming’s campaign reporting rules – especially “on the eve of an election” in 2024.
“It’s a tremendous loophole,” Wyoming Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, agreed. “All I have to do is say, ‘I don’t have a treasurer, (so) I’m not a PAC.’ … That’s the problem.”
The informal group that formed in Fremont County did constitute a PAC under current Wyoming law, Olsen said, and “they should have been instructed clearly that they (had) to find a treasurer and list out their officers” – or face a civil penalty.
“The prosecutor definitely missed it,” Olsen said.
If the committee’s bill proposal becomes law, however, informal citizen groups like the one in Fremont County will be able to follow state statute by simply listing their names on any election ads they purchase, Wyoming Rep. Pepper Ottman, R-Riverton, said, explaining that the “intent” of the legislation is to “make it so these people (are) compliant.”
“It wasn’t because they were nefarious,” she explained. “It was to help citizens that want to be involved in the political arena (be) compliant with the law and not be in trouble.”
Case agreed with Ottman that the bill proposal “makes it easier to comply” with state law, but he also pushed back on the idea that the local group’s failure to file was “some kind of innocent blunder.”
“This was a pretty egregious violation of the law, (and) I think it was more organized than that,” he said, recalling that the “same group” was involved in last year’s Save Wyoming Rally in Lander.
The pre-primary rally promoted “certain candidates over others,” Case said, and it was attended by Wyoming Republican Party officials – violating state requirements that political parties remain neutral before primary elections – but the sponsors of the event “never had to report anything about (their) expenditures.”
“There’s no reporting from anybody about the Save Wyoming Rally, (and) that was a statewide event,” Case said. “So this is of serious consequence. … We have to do (something).”
The Wyoming Legislature will consider the committee’s bill proposal during next year’s legislative session.