By Angus M. Thuermer Jr. and Andrew Graham, WyoFile.com
As lawmakers and officials filed their annual financial disclosure forms last week, Wyoming representatives passed a bill to increase what they must reveal.
The 2019 disclosure forms required of the state’s senators, representatives and five top elected officials are published below. The state’s requirement seeks to protect the public from conflicts of interest arising from elected officials voting on issues that could benefit them personally.
Lawmakers in the Wyoming House have meantime passed and sent to the Senate a bill that would make solons and statewide elected officials include, in many instances, how much they make from state contracts.
Wyoming has not ranked well in nationwide analyses of elected officials’ conflict-of-interest and disclosure requirements. In 2015, for example, the Center for Public Integrity ranked Wyoming’s Legislature 33rd among states for legislators’ accountability. The state’s executive branch ranked far lower: 47th.
Wyoming forms require officials to list offices and directorships held in business enterprises, plus whether officials are salaried employees. They must list sources of income, including from what employer or business interest. They also must divulge whether they have security or interest-earning investments and/or investment income from real estate, leases or royalties.
But the forms do not ask how much an elected official earns from any of the above or the name or other details of any income-producing investments.
“I think the scope is narrow,” former Rep. Marti Halverson said in a telephone interview Monday. She is working temporarily for Wyoming Liberty Group, but spoke only of her personal beliefs.
Lawmakers should not be required to disclose some things, she said, like how much they make outside of their state income. “I don’t think any dollar amount should be included, maybe with the exception with what our W2 form from the state reads,” Halverson said.
Halverson made about $14,000 as a representative in 2018 she said. She said she believes that information from all lawmakers should be public.
“I don’t think anybody should have an objection to listing what they were paid by John Q. Public,” Halverson said. Other income should remain confidential “because it’s not taxpayer money.”
More disclosure could be required under HB 148 State offices – contract transparency. House members passed the bill on third reading last week, 58-1 with one excused absence. The measure now goes to the Senate which received it for introduction.
It would require lawmakers and the five elected executive officials to list all state entities they have contracts with that amount to $5,000 or more. To be listed, the contract would have to be for 180 days or longer and the official’s interest would have to amount to 10 percent or more of the business entity holding the contract.
The Wyoming Liberty Group supports such transparency measures, Senior Director Kevin Fuller said Monday. Transparency measures where taxpayer money is being spent “will always be supported by us,” he said.
“Why we get push-back on that, I don’t know,” he said. “It should be easy for [citizens] to see where the money is being spent.”
Under the bill, lawmakers and other officials would have to list the state entity with which the contract is held including courts or agencies in the judicial branch.
Rep. Garry Piiparinen (R-Evanston) is lead sponsor of the bill that has 18 co-sponsors in the House and four in the Senate.
Wyoming’s citizen Legislature model, which does not compensate lawmakers with a salary, holds ample opportunity for conflicts as legislators often make their their livings in fields which stand to be affected by state government. The Wyoming Constitution states that any lawmaker “who has a personal or private interest in any measure proposed or pending before the Legislature shall disclose the fact to the house of which he is a member, and shall not vote thereon.”
Speaker of the House Steve Harshman (R, Casper) acknowledged the difficulty in toeing the line.
“Really, all of us come here with certain obligations and histories and work and all those things,” he said during a recent debate. “If you want to roll this down to the very bottom, probably all of us have a conflict somewhere.
“But if not, you wouldn’t have a citizen Legislature,” he said. “You’d have a bunch of people down here and you’d be paying them 150 grand a year or something. We’ve chosen to have a citizen Legislature — best model in the world.”