Seasons greetings friends!
My op-ed last month was focused on anonymous political mailers that have been attacking current citizen lawmakers. This sort of political campaigning is disrespectful to all involved:
- Voters – without knowing who sends the mail pieces, voters are unable to form a clear idea of the intentions behind the piece. And without data and sources on the mail pieces claims, voters are unable to verify their claims.
- Candidates – a citizen legislature relies on every-day Wyomingites to serve their communities. Bad-mouthing and spreading misinformation about lawmakers and candidates is a form of political violence and it discourages every-day Wyomingites from running for office.
- Lawmakers – doing the state’s business and serving your community are honorable efforts and they should be recognized as such. Anonymous accusations and veiled threats make it much more challenging for elected officials to focus on the important work of keeping our communities safe and healthy.
- Tax-payers – our election system is funded with taxpayer dollars. Candidates are responsible for tracking and reporting the funds they receive and expend. However, current law allows for anonymous funding of campaigning through PACs and independent expenditures. Funneling unlimited funds to campaigns undermines the system that tax-payers are funding.
I hope the next time you find a piece of campaign mail waiting for you, you take a minute to think critically about who sent it and what they are attempting to accomplish.
I also hope you take some time this winter season to give back to your community. The very best parts of us shine when we are practicing kindness to others:)
Looking forward to working with you in 2024!
The Johnson County War put Wyoming on the national stage in the early 1890s when a group of out-of-state invaders coordinated a planned attack against a Buffalo rancher. Today, a similar battle is playing out in Johnson County, and others, as unknown assailants attack current legislators unable to hide behind a fortified ranch house.
In recent weeks, at least three anonymous mailers have been sent to voters making accusations and unsubstantiated claims about current citizen lawmakers. In a state that prides itself on honesty, hard-work, and community-centric values this sort of under-handed campaigning should be a serious cause for concern and most certainly call for greater accountability.
Negative campaigning is nothing new in the world of political gamesmanship. Until recently, Wyoming voters have been spared the worst of the vitriol and ugliness that many of our fellow Americans are privy to every election season.
Part of the reason this problem exists is because of the increasing money flowing into campaigns. In 2010, the average cost to run for a Wyoming House race was about $5,000. By 2022, the average cost to run for the Wyoming House grew to almost $13,000. Similar trends are reflected in the Wyoming Senate, where average costs grew from about $7,000 in 2010 to over $15,000 in 2022.
Meanwhile, the 2022 Secretary of State race candidate expenditures not only exceeded spending for the Governor’s race but skyrocketed to a jaw-dropping $250,000 per candidate – with one candidate spending more than $700,000.
That kind of spending discourages and even excludes some candidates from participating in a citizen legislature. Not to mention that the average spending is exceptionally high for campaigns in a state with a population of somewhere around 580,000.
Verbal and written challenges to lawmakers and other elected officials are protected speech and rightfully so. But we must ask ourselves what it means to allow anonymous attacks on those who have made the courageous decision to run for office and serve their communities.
Citizen lawmakers receive little compensation for their service and spend weeks away from their families and loved ones as they do the state’s business. It is a sacrifice for our democracy and we should recognize it as such even when we disagree on policies and values.
Holding lawmakers accountable for their actions is critical to good governance and functioning democracy. But those who engage in electioneering and actively participate in political campaigns should also be held to account.
As demonstrated in the recent Wyoming Gun Owners decision, the state’s laws around campaign activities and electioneering are vague and should be updated to reflect a more modern era of running for office.
“Wyoming owes its citizens precision,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Timothy Tymkovich in the WyGO decision. The judge went further citing 1963’s NAACP v Button to add, “Precision of regulation must be the touchstone in an area so closely touching our most precious freedoms.”
During the 2023 interim session, the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions committee debated the merits and pitfalls of several bills related to elections, voting and campaign finances. Secretary of State Chuck Gray was a fixture at these meetings as he lobbied for bills that would increase the scrutiny of potential voters attempting to register.
What should have been discussed was the need for more precise regulation around what is allowed and what is not when it comes to electioneering activities. Wyoming voters deserve to know who is attacking those who serve their communities.
I think quite a bit about Nate Champion and the lies that proliferated to the point that organized, monied interests sent thugs to attack his homestead. And I think often of the bravery and sacrifice he displayed as he burst from the flames and confronted his attackers.
Wyoming deserves more Champions and fewer cowards.
View the op-ed here.