Wyoming group fights for free and fair elections

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – A group of concerned citizens in Wyoming has formed with an interest to get mystery money out of state politics. Wyoming Promise is a state-based citizen group modeled after American Promise, as a grassroots effort in the Cowboy State to add a 28th Amendment to the US Constitution promoting free and fair elections.

Wyoming Promise is targeting PAC money, special interest groups, and corporations who pour millions into political campaigns often without the authorization or even knowledge of a particular candidate. Wyoming Promise founder Ken Chestek, a lawyer who teaches at University of Wyoming law school, saw firsthand the evils of “dark money.”

During a race for state legislature in 2016, a flyer was released by Wyoming Hunters and Anglers Alliance blasting Chestek’s opponent, Bill Haley, for supporting the transfer of public lands to the state. Haley claimed that wasn’t his position at all while Chestek assured him he had nothing to do with the poster and, because of campaign laws, he couldn’t even find out who was behind the PAC that financed the message.

“One of the biggest reasons for the citizens of western states to support a 28th Amendment to get money out of politics is public land. Politicians receive campaign contributions from special interests who want to take over public lands for their own purposes, and we see how those politicians act in favor of those special interests and against the overwhelming popular will of the people to keep lands public,” Chestek states.

Efforts to date

Wyoming Promise was able to get sponsored legislation proposed during the Wyoming Legislature’s most recent session. Rep. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, introduced a resolution calling on Congress to propose a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The bill made it out of committee but no further as time ran out on the session.

In an effort to bring its own ballot initiative in November 2018, Wyoming Promise garnered 281 sponsors, including former Senator Alan Simpson and former Governor Dave Freudenthal, to petition for official certification from Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray.

“We were thrilled that we were able to get so many sponsors in such a short time. That probably reflects the energy that has built up in support of getting dark money out of politics,” Chestek said.

Simpson penned a letter to all Wyoming citizens urging them to “support a 28th Amendment to the Constitution so we can have reasonable limits on election spending, reform pay-to-play politics, and secure human liberty and equal representation rather than turn our government over to a global corporate marketplace.”

The hard work paid off. Murray last week certified the ballot initiative allowing citizen-sponsored legislation to be proposed as part of a general vote. The group now needs to collect 38,818 signatures (15 percent of the total number of votes cast in the 2016 General Election) by February 12, 2018 for the initiative titled “An Act to Promote Free and Fair Election,” to be placed on the general election ballot in 2018.

To date, 18 states, including Colorado and Montana, have also passed similar resolutions calling for a 28th Amendment the US Constitution.

TV time update

On Sunday, May 28, at 5:30 pm, Wyoming PBS will air a show called “Wyoming Signatures.” It will include a discussion with Wyoming Promise chair Ken Chestek regarding the group’s efforts to get a citizens’ initiative on the ballot in November 2018.

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