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By Maggie Mullen
WyoFile.com 

Elections official files complaint against conservative PAC

 

September 15, 2022



Campbell County’s chief elections officer has filed a complaint against Coal Country Conservatives Political Action Committee, calling on the Federal Elections Commission and the Wyoming secretary of state to undertake a “swift and robust investigation.”

The complaint, filed Friday by Campbell County Clerk Susan Saunders, names both the federal PAC and a Wyoming entity of the same name.

“It is my professional judgement the organization of these entities and their activities can, at best, be described as a scheme to thwart transparency in a way that is deceptive to the public and may be illegal,” Saunders wrote in the complaint.

Chief among Saunders’ concerns is a potentially improper campaign-finance relationship between the two organizations and a lack of disclosure on the part of both.

A voter guide with the disclaimer “paid for by Coal Country Conservatives Action Committee” was mailed to Wyoming residents and appeared as an advertisement in a local print magazine, according to attachments included with the clerk’s complaint. The guide supported one federal candidate — Harriet Hageman, who is running for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat — and more than 100 statewide, legislative, local and precinct candidates.

“The first question that needs to be answered is who engaged in the electioneering activities?” Saunders wrote. “Was it the Wyoming corporation exercising its First Amendment rights (CCCPac1), the federal PAC (CCCPac2) or some combination?”

How much either entity raised for or spent on the 2022 primary election is unclear, since neither filed a requisite campaign finance report with the federal government. The Federal Elections Commission sent the PAC a request for such a report in August but the PAC has failed to submit it. Meanwhile, its donors also remain unknown to the public.

Saunders cited the November general election and the expected resignation of Secretary of State Ed Buchanan at the end of this week as reasons for urgency.

“The need for a timely and complete investigation and resolution using all the tools at your disposal is paramount as the potential for continued activities by CCCPac presents a clear and present danger to the integrity of the 2022 general election and the rule of law in Campbell County,” Saunders wrote.

Coal Country Conservative Political Action Committee was incorporated in the state of Wyoming on May 18 as a domestic for-profit corporation, according to secretary of state records. A federal political action committee by the same name filed with the FEC on that same day, federal records indicate.

Both entities list Colleen McCabe as treasurer. Laura Cox is listed as the president of the PAC and the registered agent for the corporation.

Neither McCabe nor Cox responded to WyoFile’s requests for comment by press time.

Wyoming law does not require federal PACs to file contribution and expenditure reports with the state. The federal government, however, does require federal PACs to file such reports, including information about spending and fundraising.

“The failure to timely file a complete report may result in civil money penalties, an audit or legal enforcement action,” the FEC said in an August letter to the PAC after it did not file the required July report. As of press time, the PAC had not filed a report with the federal government.

“The civil money penalty calculation for late reports does not include a grace period and begins on the day following the due date for the report,” according to the letter. The filing deadline was July 15. The next one is Oct. 15.

While a federal PAC is not required to file with the state, the clerk is asking the state to clarify whether that statute relieves Coal Country Conservative PAC of all legal requirements under state law or just those associated with the single federal candidate.

“This question is relevant as the electioneering materials CCCPac distributed lists only one federal candidate and numerous statewide, legislative, local and precinct candidates,” Saunders wrote.

The federal PAC filed as nonconnected, which means it is not a separate segregated fund established by a corporation — such as the Wyoming entity — or labor organization.

“This seems dubious as the officers for both [organizations] are identical,” Saunders pointed out in the complaint.

In addition to being mailed and published in a magazine, the voter guide was distributed on the Campbell County “Courthouse steps on at least one day during the absentee voting period,” according to the complaint. It is illegal to distribute electioneering materials within 100 yards of an active polling place in Wyoming on Election Day, and within 100 feet all other days. The clerk requested that action cease. A voter also notified Campbell County elections staff, according to the complaint, that such materials were distributed at the individual’s church.

The voter guide directed residents to vote for certain candidates but offered no additional information, such as candidate platforms or how the candidates were selected.

In statewide races, it endorsed Brent Bien for governor, Chuck Gray for secretary of state, Curt Meier for treasurer and Brian Schroeder for superintendent of public instruction. For legislative races, the voter guide suggested Abby Angelos for House District 3, Reuben Tarver for House District 52, Roger Connett for Senate District 1 and Patricia Junek as a write-in candidate for Senate District 23. Additionally, it endorsed more than a dozen county and city candidates and over 100 candidates running for Republican party precinct positions.

Saunders is not seeking reelection. The candidate endorsed by the CCC PAC, Cindy Lovelace, won the primary contest for the clerk’s seat against the current chief deputy county clerk.

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

 
 

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