Group turns to Legislature for election finance reform


By Michael Illiano

The Sheridan Press

Via Wyoming News Exchange

SHERIDAN — After failing to collect enough signatures to place a question regarding campaign finance reform on Wyoming’s 2020 ballot, Wyoming Promise is looking to the state Legislature to support its efforts to limit corporate influence in elections. 

Wyoming Promise is affiliated with the national American Promise campaign, whose ultimate goal is to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That decision eliminated campaign spending restrictions on corporations by declaring such restrictions inhibit free speech.

American Promise is attempting to rally support for a constitutional amendment from at least 38 states. If it is successful, the states could request a constitutional convention and ratify a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. If Wyoming Promise succeeds, Wyoming would be the 20th state to support the movement. Wyoming Promise collected 20,255 verified signatures in support of its initiative, which fell short of the 38,818-signature threshold necessary to get the question on the 2020 ballot.

“We got a lot of signatures; we didn’t get enough to get on the ballot, but that is largely because Wyoming is the hardest state in the country to get anything on the ballot,” Wyoming Promise Chair Ken Chestek said.

However, Wyoming Promise representatives say the signatures they’ve amassed demonstrate widespread, bi-partisan support for their initiative and are calling on legislators to act.

According Chestek, the group is looking for legislators to sponsor one of two bills. The first bill would declare Wyoming’s support for the constitutional amendment outright, and the second would place the issue on the 2020 ballot and let voters decide whether or not the state will support the measure.

No legislator has offered to sponsor either of the bills so far, but Chestek said several lawmakers have offered to cosponsor the bill. He has also had discussions with legislators who are considering acting as the primary sponsor for one of the bills.

If either of the bills are introduced, Chestek said he is confident they can pass in the Legislature.

“One of the things we did when we were circulating petitions was we did a poll of (legislative members) to see who would be supportive of it, who had no opinion and who would be opposed,” Chestek said. “And we found a number of incumbents and candidates who were supportive of it.”

He added that Wyoming Promise advocated a resolution in support of its goals two years ago, which was passed and recommended by the Legislature’s Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee but it was ultimately defeated on the House floor.

“We’ve already had some success two years ago,” Chestek said. “We ran out of time because we started the process too late. So we’re hoping to get started right away on the first day of (the January legislative session) this time around. We think there is a lot of support for it.”

Local lawmakers, however, are split on the group’s legislative efforts. The bills Wyoming Promise is calling for also have not been drafted and legislators therefore can only react to the principles behind hypothetical bills rather than proposed legislation.

Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, said he does not support the Wyoming Promise initiative and believes repealing the Citizen’s United decision would constitute an infringement on freedom of speech.

“Free speech is messy, but I would rather have more freedom of speech than censorship of political speech,” Biteman said. “It is up to the voters to decide what to believe and get the facts for themselves…I think at the end of the day, dark money groups that use negative campaigning actually end up hurting the candidates they are trying to help get elected because people are sick and tired of the politics of personal destruction.”

Rep. Richard Tass, R-Buffalo, admitted he was not familiar with Wyoming Promise’s legislative proposals but that he is leery of the group’s ultimate goal.

“I am pretty much skeptical about constitutional amendments,” Tass said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan, said he would support Wyoming Promise’s efforts in the Legislature and Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Ranchester, said while he did not necessarily support Wyoming Promise, he would back legislation that puts the issue on the ballot and lets voters decide.

“In terms of ballot initiatives, rarely will I ever speak against taking something directly to the voter, because that is the ultimate boss in a democracy,” Western said. “…I did not sign Wyoming Promise’s pledge — there are some things we agree on, but some things we don’t — but in terms of a ballot initiative, in principle, I’m not against it.”