Wyoming gun rights group fights ruling to disclose donors
CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — An attorney for a gun rights advocacy group in Wyoming has challenged a ruling by the secretary of state to disclose the group’s donors, arguing that the ruling is an attempt to stifle political speech after the group was accused of running attack ads against Republican candidates.
The Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce filed the complaint against Wyoming Gun Owners over ads the group ran in the past year despite not being registered with the secretary of state’s office as required by law, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.
The group must now register with the state and disclose its donors or face a $500 fine.
Lawyer Stephen Klein, who represents the group, asked the state elections division in a letter Wednesday to dismiss the complaint, saying there was a lack of documentation that showed the ads were against the law. The ads targeted Reps. Sandy Newsome and Bill Pownall, Sens. Michael Von Flatern and Affie Ellis and Republican candidates Ember Oakley and Erin Johnson.
“WyGO has faithfully complied with the law, but is now threatened with fines and potentially prosecution over its political speech — without even knowing just what speech is at issue and why,” Klein said.
The Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce provided copies to the Star-Tribune of the exhibits that were shared with the state, including several fundraising emails disparaging numerous candidates and an audio recording of a radio advertisement and photocopies of a political mailer boosting Sen. Anthony Bouchard, the group’s founder.
“This blatant and utter disregard for Wyoming law should not be let go without consequences,” Chamber of Commerce President Dale Steenbergen said. “Wyoming voters deserve to know how much money out of state organizations are dumping into our elections and the law requires WyGO to disclose that.”
Klein argues the group never explicitly endorsed Bouchard or any other candidate and that the ads were in compliance with state campaign finance law, which defines electioneering communications as any advertisement that clearly defines a candidate, “does not expressly advocate the nomination, election or defeat of the candidate,” or “can only be reasonably interpreted as an appeal to vote for or against” a candidate, among numerous other provisions.
Wyoming Gun Owners Executive Director Aaron Dorr was properly registered during the 2020 legislative session, but the group itself never was, officials said. Dorr also apparently never filed his paperwork to conduct lobbying work when a majority of the ads ran.
The group had no representative actively registered with the secretary of state’s office as of Wednesday, according to a roster of registered lobbyists maintained by the office.
Secretary of State Ed Buchanan said Wednesday that he had not yet reviewed the letter and did not elaborate on specific details of the case.