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Gun rights group sues state officials

CASPER – Wyoming Gun Owners filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan and Attorney General Bridget Hill claiming that Wyoming’s electioneering communications law is unconstitutionally vague under the First Amendment.

“It violates the First Amendment because people are inclined to self-censor when the law’s vague,” said Del Kolde, a senior attorney from the Institute on Free Speech who is co-representing Wyoming Gun Owners.

The lawsuit, which was also filed against Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler and Election Division Director Kai Schon, comes after the secretary of state investigated the gun rights group for allegedly engaging in electioneering without disclosing their donors.

Wyoming Gun Owners pressed the state to drop the investigation in late 2020 but to no avail. The secretary of state ruled that the group had to disclose their donors or pay a $500 fine, and the group chose the latter.

Stephen Klein, one of the lawyers who filed the lawsuit, said the state told Wyoming Gun Owners that paying the fine didn’t mean the group wouldn’t have to disclose donors in the future.

It is unclear whether the secretary of state’s office is still investigating the group. The office did not return a request for comment Thursday.

The investigation began late last year when the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce filed a complaint against Wyoming Gun Owners for not being registered with the Wyoming secretary of state’s office, as is required by election code when engaging in electioneering.

The lawyers representing Wyoming Gun Owners said they plan to file a preliminary injunction this week to fast-track the case.

The state attorney general’s office declined to comment.

Wyoming Gun Owners did run aggressive campaign advertisements and sent mailers and emails about specific candidates.

What Kolde and the gun rights group argues, however, is that the advertisements and mailers never expressly endorsed candidates but only communicated the candidates’ stances and voting records on gun policy.

The most recent lawsuit is in part an attempt to be able to run campaign advertisements and send mailers ahead of the 2022 election without being investigated again, Kolde said.

“Now (Wyoming Gun Owners is) left in a position where they want to speak again in the next election,” he said, “but they don’t know what they can say without drawing another complaint or another investigation.”