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Supreme Court Campaign Finance

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in 2013 to protest campaign finance. The Institute for Free Speech released its first-ever “Free Speech Index” recently, which considers political contributions as protected.

Hello readers! Hope everyone is having a good Monday morning. Apologies for our brief hiatus last week but 307 Politics is back in full force. For those who were waiting with bated breath to find out the true term for people from Gillette, I’m happy to announce we... sort of have an answer? City of Gillette communications manage Geno Palazzari said he goes with “Gilletten,” which is the same term a few other readers shared with me by email. As always, you can “like” us at Facebook.com/307politics or follow on Twitter @307politics. I’ve also replaced the old professional Facebook page I used to post articles when I covered Casper for the Star-Tribune with an email newsletter that you can sign-up for at arno.substack.com to keep up with my Star-Tribune articles that don’t make it into this weekly 307 Politics email.

Now for the newsletter...

Wyoming is graded pretty high in a weird ranking

I’ve written before about the weird, nationwide surveys and rankings that slot Wyoming in the strangest of places (the state with the highest level of racial equality, for example). In general, these rankings serve as an easy publicity tool for the groups that sponsor them. But I stumbled upon perhaps the oddest one I’ve seen yet recently.

The Institute for Free Speech sent me a copy of its first-ever “Free Speech Index,” ranking all 50 states. Now a big red flag in political coverage is whenever organizations wrap themselves in ambiguous, but widely appreciated concepts, like “free speech.”

It quickly became clear that by “free speech,” the Virginia-based group means political contributions. Whether political donations qualify as speech protected by the First Amendment was, of course, the underlying question in the controversial “Citizens United” United States Supreme Court decision in 2010. The Court decided that, yes, money is speech.

While political operatives with access to major donors celebrated the decision, the whole money-as-free-speech argument never seemed to catch on with average Americans. We all seem to understand that expressing one’s ideas is clearly protected by the Constitution. But paying for the cost of a private jet to transport a candidate? Well, that’s a little more iffy as public perception is concerned. It gets all the more muddled when it’s a private corporation bankrolling candidates.

But anyway, the Institute on Free Speech is dedicated to winning the public to the side of unlimited political contributions.

“(I)f spending money (was) not a form of speech, the First Amendment would become hollow for all but newspapers and other press outlets, since any effort to spread one’s message, through advertising or pamphleteering, could be stripped of First Amendment protections simply by attacking the expenditure of money,” chairman Bradley Smith writes in the index’s introduction.

I actually read a “liberal defense” of Citizens United several years ago that argued the decision was necessary to protect the ability of newspapers to endorse political candidates because otherwise such actions could be barred since most papers are owned by corporations and promoting candidates could be categorized as corporate political speech and thus barred.

Personally, the whole “money as speech” argument strikes me as rather specious. Free speech, so far as I understand it, seems to revolve around the ideas being expressed rather than the reach or exposure of those ideas. To say that people with more money are entitled to more Constitutionally-protected speech just rings kind of hollow.

Then again, I’ve heard that during the many decades of Mexican dictatorship, newspapers there were largely free to publish whatever they liked but newsprint was intentionally rationed such that the dissident papers could only reach a sliver of the population. So I can see both sides -- after all, if you’re not allowed to spend money to express your ideas, how will anyone find out about them.

In any case, you’ll be pleased -- or discouraged -- to know that Wyoming ranks 12 in the nationwide index after the states that impose no caps on state political donations.

“Wyoming is now the best of the rest,” the index entry on the Cowboy State reads. “Interestingly, the Equality State is the only state in the nation to allow unlimited giving for PACs to gubernatorial candidates but not to legislative candidates. If free political speech is good for the Governor’s Mansion, it stands to reason it’s good for the Legislature too.”

Cheney defends Libby

President Donald Trump pardoned Scooter Libby on Friday for his convictions on perjury and obstruction of justice that date back to the Bush administration. Libby was convicted of four felonies related to how C.I.A officer Valerie Plame’s cover was blown after her husband criticized Vice President Dick Cheney’s role in the Iraq War.

Libby was not charged with leaking Plame’s identity but rather because described events differently than other witnesses in the case. President George W. Bush commuted Libby’s roughly two-year prison sentence, but refused to pardon him despite the strong urging of Cheney.

Libby was Cheney’s chief of staff -- stop me if you know where this is going -- and Wyoming’s U.S. House Rep. Liz Cheney, Dick’s daughter, backed Trump’s pardon on Twitter Friday.

“Scooter Libby is a good, honorable and innocent man who was the victim of prosecutorial misconduct and a miscarriage of justice,” Cheney wrote on social media. “Thank you @realDonaldTrump for righting a terrible wrong and delivering the full pardon Scooter deserved.”

The elder Cheney released his own statement praising the pardon.

Liz Cheney’s support for the move comes weeks after she offered an acerbic defense of the Central Intelligence Agency’s “Enhanced Interrogation” torture program that was defended by her father during and after the Bush administration.

Friess back at it

Jackson-based philanthropist and GOP megadonor Foster Friess is back to telling national reporters -- this time one from Time Magazine -- he’s about to start a “listening tour” across Wyoming to decide whether to run against Sen. John Barrasso in the Republican Senate primary.

When he told Buzzfeed this same thing last fall I asked him about it and he basically said, “stay tuned for more details.” None were forthcoming and there was no tour. Plus there’s the whole thing where Friess keeps saying Barrasso is a hero of his and doing a great job.

But, in a fun twist, Friess’s renewed comments about entering the race are providing some fodder for Democratic Senate candidate Gary Trauner.

In a fundraising email attacking Friess, Trauner warned Wyoming voters that the conservative Christian Friess, who has single-handedly propped up candidates of his liking in past national races, might be coming for their Senate seat.

“Friess is tired of writing fat checks for other people,” the email reads. “So he’s thinking about running against Gary in Wyoming -- and he can pay for the entire campaign if he wants.”

Basically, they want supporters to donate to Trauner in case he’s forced to “play ball against a PAC-loving multi-millionaire.”

Hey, it’s a strategy!

Roundup

ENZI SNUBBED? -- Wyoming Public Radio’s Matt Laslo  reports that Sen. Mike Enzi was excluded from a newly-created budget commission despite chairing the Senate Budget Committee and his status as fiscal guru on the Hill. Laslo said it may be due to Enzi’s vote against the spending deal that kept the government open earlier this year.

-- “I’ll leave that speculation up to everyone else. But I’ve been told a number of things,” Enzi told Laslo. “I would have felt a little more comfortable, of course, if I were the chairman of (the commission).”

WYOMINGITE TO CPB -- Trump nominated Ruby Calvert, who worked as Wyoming PBS manager for 10 years, to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Board earlier this month, a move that drew praise by Barrasso and Enzi.

-- “Ruby has served in the public television system for 35 years,” Barrasso said in a statement. “Throughout her career, Ruby has worked with [CPB] to modernize and expand public television in Wyoming.”

BARRASSO DOWN ON ESA -- Barrasso told the Cody Enterprise's Lew Freedman that he wants to see major changes to the Endangered Species Act to reduce the burdens on businesses operating in areas where some species are listed under the act. Barrasso said he’s waiting until there’s bipartisan agreement before bringing a bill.

-- “We’re trying to get consensus,” he said.

Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics.

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State Politics Reporter

Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics including the Legislature and Wyoming’s D.C. delegation, focusing especially on the major issues facing the Cowboy State like economic diversification and what it means to be the most conservative state in the nation.

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