Wyoming’s Republican Party attacks Women Lead Wyoming

Oct. 25, 2016

Last week, the Wyoming GOP issued a complaint claiming Women Lead Wyoming—and our parent organization, Forward Wyoming Advocacy—violated campaign finance law. The GOP’s claims are untrue, and we have provided the Wyoming Secretary of State documents to prove it.

The GOP’s attack came after a number of Wyoming voters received mailers from Women Lead Wyoming calling out 2016 state legislative candidates for their voting records. We called out state representatives like Jim Allen (HD-33) and Don Burkhart (HD-15) for voting last year against a wage transparency bill that would have helped Wyoming women fight wage discrimination in the workplace. We called out Gerald Gay (HD-36) for saying women workers are “undependable” and blaming them for Wyoming’s gender wage gap, which is the worst in the nation. The candidates we called out are Republicans.

The Wyoming GOP is not accustomed to having its candidates held accountable for their votes. The long-dominant party has traditionally benefitted from the good ol’ boys style of politics that in 2015 earned Wyoming an “F” from the Center for Public Integrity for things like electoral oversight, executive accountability, and political financing. But as soon as an upstart like Women Lead Wyoming points out that (many, but not all) GOP lawmakers consistently vote against expanding Wyoming women’s access to health care, against strengthening domestic violence protections, against funding public preschool, against reproductive rights, against closing the gender wage gap, and against basically any law that would benefit Wyoming women … well, then, the GOP goes into attack mode.

We are disheartened that the Wyoming GOP hides behind bogus claims of campaign finance violations—they say Women Lead Wyoming is run by “Obama operatives” from the Democratic National Committee using “dark money” schemes—instead of addressing issues that actually matter to Wyoming women.

Below is a press release responding to the attack, which includes comments from Forward Wyoming Advocacy Director Sydney Stein. Click here to read the statements and documents submitted to the Wyoming Secretary of State.

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Forward Wyoming Advocacy and ELLA WY respond to GOP allegations

October 24, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Laramie—Forward Wyoming Advocacy (FWA), a 501(c)(4) organization, and ELLA WY, LLC (ELLA), a consulting firm, issued an official response to the secretary of state’s office Sunday following allegations from the Wyoming Republican Party that the organizations coordinated in violation of campaign finance laws on a series of mail ads.

The GOP’s report asserted that Women Lead Wyoming, a project of FWA, acted as a “fictitious pseudonym” for ELLA, a consulting firm contracted by FWA as well as leading candidates for the Wyoming Legislature.

Sydney Stein, the executive director of FWA, said the GOP’s claims are false and her organization has always been legally compliant.

“Their assertion is completely false. Women Lead Wyoming is not the same as ELLA, it is a project of ours and we contract with ELLA for help with things like data management and web design,” Stein said. “The GOP’s conflation of the two groups is wildly off base.”

Chris Bell, the executive director of ELLA, said Stein is right and both organizations have issued reports in response to the Republican Party’s allegations.

“Their accusations are outlandish and unfortunate,” Bell said. “We assist FWA with data management but we maintain strict firewalls, established on the advice of legal counsel, between that work and the work we do with candidates. We are nothing if not compliant with the law. We are responding to this complaint proactively to clear up any confusion with Secretary Murray’s office and the public at large.”

Per Stein, Forward Wyoming Advocacy used the name of its project, Women Lead Wyoming, on some political mailers it sent out.

“As the organization that is more visible to the public, FWA thought this would provide greater transparency rather than less,” Stein said. “However, we realize that this failed to strictly follow the requirements of WY Statute 22-25-110 that requires campaign literature to “announce the name of the candidate, organization or committee paying for the advertising.”

Technically, FWA sponsors the Women Lead Wyoming project and pays for its program, including the mailer.

Stein said the Republican Party’s attack was an attempt to silence her organization, which is trying to raise awareness of women’s issues in Wyoming ahead of this year’s election.

“We know that a majority of Wyomingites agree with Women Lead Wyoming on a multitude of issues such as narrowing the gender wage gap, increasing support for early childhood education, improving healthcare access and diversifying Wyoming’s economy to increase job opportunities,” Stein said. “But a lot of Republican Wyoming candidates are on the wrong side of these issues, and they don’t like us educating voters.”

In the Republican Party’s release, they accused the organizations of using “DC style politics” and employing “Obama operatives”.

“Wyoming Republicans have a long history of using independent expenditure mailers to criticize a candidate, often using tactics that are less fact-based than Women Lead Wyoming’s,” said Stein, “This isn’t new to Wyoming, it’s just new for more progressive organizations to fight back.”

“Our staff is made up of young grassroots organizers, not operatives,” said Bell, “We spend most of our time talking to voters.”

“No one works for the President,” he added. “That’s just silly.”

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