SHERIDAN — Local volunteers for Wyoming Promise who have been collecting signatures for a statewide citizens initiative have exceeded the requirement for Sheridan County by 30 percent. The initiative known as “Free and Fair Elections” seeks to make Wyoming the 20th state to call for a constitutional amendment to limit the influence of money on politics.

“We would like to all the Sheridan County registered voters who signed the petitions and the dedicated volunteers who helped make this happen,” said Kris Korfanta, Sheridan County team leader for Wyoming Promise, in a press release.

“The amazing efforts of Wyoming Promise volunteers are as grass roots as it can get. We had 80 canvassers in Sheridan County and additional volunteers helping with everything from paying for photocopies to baking pies to fuel the effort.” 

The cross partisan effort began statewide in 2017 as volunteers helped to educate the public about the outsized influence big moneyed interests have on the political system. Volunteers spoke one on one with citizens, wrote letters to the editor, hosted public education events, raised the issue with candidates and legislators and collected signatures. The collected signatures will be turned over to the Wyoming secretary of state for certification.

If certified, the initiative would be put on the 2020 ballot. 

Rep. Mike Madden, R- Buffalo, was an early supporter of the initiative.

“It just seems to me that we need to have some reining in on this idea that corporations are people,” Madden said in the press release.

“Money is not speech. When you get to this point that the more money you have, the more free speech you have, there can’t be a good outcome from that.”

He said he has seen dark money already affecting Wyoming politics.

“It’s not going to get any better,” Madden said. “And that just breaks my heart; that’s just not how Wyoming politics has ever been.”

Sheridan County petition gatherers collected more than 130 percent of the required signatures.

Wyoming Promise volunteer Kathy Urbatchka said the group gathered more than the 2,956 verified signatures, but many were unqualified because of legibility and others turned out to be unregistered.

Wyoming is the most restrictive state in allowing citizen initiatives, now requiring the signatures of 15 percent of registered voters in 16 of all 23 counties. It has been 22 years since a citizen initiative in Wyoming made it to the ballot; it called for term limits and achieved before additional restrictions on citizen initiatives were added.

Prior to the Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs FEC, political spending was regulated by the bipartisan McCain-Feingold Act. One provision of the act was to prohibit “electioneering communications,” from being paid for by a corporation or issue group. The 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision lifted that restriction, allowing for unfettered spending by multinational corporations, unions and wealthy donors to 501(c)4 groups that are not required to reveal their donors.

“I am heartened that people of all political stripes recognize the corrupting influence of special interest money in our politics and are willing to take action to do something about it, “ said Barbara Chase, a volunteer who helped organize canvassing efforts in Sheridan.

Korfanta agreed.

“Working with citizens across party lines to put ‘We the People’ back into our government has been inspiring, and gives credence to Margaret Meade’s quote, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,’” she said.

As the state initiative awaits certification by the secretary of state, supporters intend to keep the issue alive during the upcoming 2019 general session of the Wyoming Legislature, which begins Jan. 8.