Election Day 2016

Voters fill out their ballots in November at the Evansville Community Center.

File, Star-Tribune

The Wyoming Attorney General’s office has declined to consider the state Republican Party’s complaints against a progressive organization that sent voters mail praising Democratic legislative candidates and criticizing their GOP opponents, according to recent letters sent to people involved in the grievances.

The Attorney General’s office will not investigate the complaints because they came from the Wyoming Republican Party, Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Robinson wrote.

State law specifies complaints must come from qualified electors. And a political party is not a qualified elector under state law, he wrote.

Robinson sent letters on May 10 to GOP attorney Mitch Edwards and May 16 to ELLA LLC attorney Margaret White.

The state GOP had complained that Wyoming Hunters and Anglers Alliance and Women Lead Wyoming were supposed to be sending mail independently of the Democratic candidates’ campaigns. But many of the Democrats had hired a sister organization called ELLA WY LLC to manage their campaigns or provide them data about potential voters.

The GOP maintained that those organizations weren’t separate enough and that there was coordination among them and the candidates.

ELLA and the candidates have argued that they did everything they could to comply with the law. They said that the law wasn’t explicit on organizations such as theirs. They said they hired an attorney who told the organizations to rent separate office space to create what they described as a firewall between the groups. The attorney gave them advice based on Colorado election laws, which are clearer, they said.

In the letter, Robinson stressed that his decision to not pursue the matter wasn’t a decision on the merits of the complaint. His decision was based on the GOP not following the law to complain, he wrote.

The GOP’s complaints came days before the Nov. 8 general election.

Chris Bell, director of ELLA, said the grievances were likely was a political stunt.

“It’s really hard to get away from that,” he said. “I really believe they should have stuck to the substance of their complaint if they believed if it was a legitimate issue.”

Bell noted that the GOP characterized ELLA and the hunters and anglers groups as Obama operatives since a founder of ELLA had worked for the Obama campaign.

Jackson philanthropist Liz Storer is involved in the groups. She said others are giving money but declined to name them.

Outside groups becoming involved in elections is known as dark money. The progressive groups are new to Wyoming. Conservative organizations have been involved in Wyoming legislative campaigns for nearly a decade.

A number of state officials have said they want the law to be clarified. The GOP’s complaint bounced around the state, among the AG’s office, Secretary of State and the Albany County attorney, because there was disagreement of whose purview the investigation fell under.

Bell said his organization agrees the law needs to change.

“We want to be a team player in this process of suggestions for revisions of the statutes,” he said.

Edwards, the Wyoming GOP attorney, said the party disagrees with the AG, believing it is twisting the law.

A political party is allowed to complain over alleged campaign finance violations to the Secretary of State — the office to which the GOP submitted the complaint, he said.

“Based on the timeline and the Attorney General’s actions here, it seems that the Attorney General’s most recent position is nonsensical excuse to evade its duty to enforce Wyoming’s campaign finance laws,” he said.

The party is considering its options on how to proceed, he said.

Follow political reporter Laura Hancock on Twitter @laurahancock

2
9
2
1
2

Star-Tribune reporter Laura Hancock covers politics and the Wyoming Legislature.

Load comments