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August 21, 2012 7:47 am

EDITORIAL: Law should specify candidates’ own money is counted

Written by CJ Baker

Wyoming has good laws requiring political candidates to disclose their donors and expenditures, but they could stand some improvement when it comes to a candidate’s own contributions to their campaign.

Current state law requires all candidates to disclose not just how much money they have raised, but also where it’s coming from. This transparency can provide voters with valuable insight into a candidate — such as where their backing is coming from and how they run a race. After all, how a candidate campaigns may speak to how they will govern.

Candidates were required to file pre-primary reports last week. Those reports outline details of contributions through earlier this month.

While it sounds simple enough, Wyoming’s law fails to make it clear whether a candidate’s own money is considered a contribution. As a result, some candidates filed reports indicating they hadn’t received a dime for their campaign — even though they clearly have money in the race, as evidenced by advertising and yard signs.

Don’t blame the candidates for the confusion, though — they’re doing nothing wrong. Instead, blame our ambivalent state election law. The current Wyoming statute generically refers to reporting receipts, leaving it up for interpretation as to whether it actually requires reporting one’s own contributions prior to the election.

“The law is really not clear as to how they’re supposed to report that,” said Peggy Nighswonger, state election director, in an interview with the Tribune last week.

Without clarity in the state law, some candidates classify their own money as contributions, while others don’t. That makes it difficult to accurately contrast candidates’ fundraising and leaves the voting public to compare apples and oranges.

We would encourage lawmakers — including those chosen by voters today and elected in November — to make the law clear that candidates should disclose contributions they’ve made to their own campaigns prior to each election.

Under current state law, candidates do report all their sources of money, including personal contributions, in post-election reports detailing expenditures. But after the election doesn’t do a lot of good for voters.

The Wyoming Secretary of State’s office and lawmakers took an excellent leap forward in making all state candidates’ finance reports available online at www.wycampaignfinance.gov. Clearing up this ambivalence would be a great next step.

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