State lawmakers and the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office are working on legislation to limit the influence of corporate money on state-level elections in Wyoming.
Though no bill recommending specific changes to state law has been drafted yet, the proposed law – which was brought to the committee as a slate of election code changes from the Secretary of State’s office – would seek to prohibit corporations from donating to political parties or political action committees in coordination to back a specific candidate in an election.
This is a method often used by corporate donors – which are currently prohibited from donating directly to candidates under state law — to circumvent restrictions on political contributions.
“This is meant to address the issue of coordination,” said committee co-chair, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander. “Corporate expenditures are permitted for non-coordinated activities, non-coordinated independent expenditures. They can still express their free speech, but this is trying to prevent corporations coordinating with parties or political action committees to elect a candidate.”
The motion was approved unanimously by members of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions at its Monday meeting in Casper.
If passed into law, the proposed legislation would be considered a state-level response to the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which deemed that corporations’ political contributions were treated similarly to a citizen’s right to free speech under federal campaign finance law.
“This is the one piece we wanted to make clear, because we had that one opinion that [corporations] could participate in the process through these entities, who could then give to candidates,” Kai Schon, director of the state’s Elections Division, said. “We wanted to raise that, because that’s the new understanding we’ve been working under. We don’t think that was the intent to have happen.”
Schon could name no specific instances of corporations engaging in the state’s elections in recent years, calling Monday’s proposal more of a preemptive measure to close a loophole in the state’s sometimes porous campaign finance laws.
“If politicians started to solicit donations from corporations, that’s sort of a game changer – being able to funnel a bunch of money to your candidates,” said Schon. “This was just to close that up before it could be exploited.”
Though a step forward, Schon noted that the law depends on the honesty of candidates, PACs, and political parties in reporting their contributions as well as their expenditures, particularly as they relate to specific candidates.
Essentially, unless somebody tips off the Secretary of State’s office, Schon told committee members, there’s no way to really know if the law has been broken.
“What people do with their money, hopefully they remain honest,” Schon told the Star-Tribune after. “You can’t monitor everything 24/7, so there is that piece about honesty that I don’t think we can ever get away from. There are laws, and people choose to follow them or break them.”