Lawmakers blast UW for paying Democrats … to pick up trash

Posted 4/22/21

A group of Republican lawmakers recently blasted the University of Wyoming for paying out $2,700 to the Albany County Democratic Party in 2019 and 2020.

State Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Lawmakers blast UW for paying Democrats … to pick up trash


A group of Republican lawmakers recently blasted the University of Wyoming for paying out $2,700 to the Albany County Democratic Party in 2019 and 2020.

State Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, and seven of her Wyoming House colleagues penned a letter last week that called the payments an “obscene violation of the public trust and the university’s obligations of neutrality.”

However, although the Albany County Democratic Party’s campaign finance report listed the money from the University of Wyoming as “contributions,” UW invoices show they were actually payments for service: The Democrats picked up trash after seven football and basketball games between October 2019 and January 2020.

“The Albany County Democratic Party is just one of several community organizations who apply for and receive the assignments for any given event,” party chair Carrie Murthy said in a statement. “Performing a job for payment is not a political contribution. And, I’m sure that no elected official would posit that any person or organization should be discriminated against for their political affiliation, especially not here in the Equality State.”

The “contributions” listed in the Albany County Democratic Party’s campaign finance report — which was originally filed in November — would raise concerns and questions if seen in a vacuum, said Chad Baldwin, a spokesman for UW. 

“But in this case, there really is a logical explanation,” Baldwin said, “and in fact it was not a political contribution: It was a fee for a service.”

He added that the university’s policies prohibit contributions to political campaigns and parties, “period.”

UW has long relied on student and civic organizations to pick up the trash that thousands of fans leave behind at War Memorial Stadium and the Arena-Auditorium. Part of the reason the university has turned to groups instead of hiring workers is that the events are sporadic — and it’s difficult to find people wanting to work on a part-time basis, said Tyson Drew, UW’s associate athletic director for facility and event operations.

So each fall, UW reaches out to student clubs to see if they want to clean up the facilities in exchange for some funding ($600 per event at the stadium, $300 at the auditorium). While that draws a regular crew of helpers, a lot of the groups back out late in the football season, Drew said, and student help gets particularly scarce during holiday breaks. During those times, UW turns to community organizations.

With Laramie being so windy, it’s critical to clean up the stadium quickly, he said, while the auditorium sometimes needs to be ready for another game the next day.

“We’re just looking for groups that can provide us with 10-plus people and get it done as quick as possible,” Drew said.

The Albany County Democrats are among various individuals and groups that have picked up trash, Baldwin said — ranging from the Air Force ROTC to the UW chapter of Engineers Without Borders to the Cathedral Home for Children.

“We’ll open it up to any group — Republicans, Democrats — that want to come and help us out and do a service for us,” Drew said. “Because that’s what we’re doing: We’re paying them for a service, so we just appreciate the help.”

In her letter to the editor, Rodriguez-Williams described the payments from UW as forcing taxpayers “to subsidize a political party to which they are opposed” and said the violation of public trust should be “flatly condemned.”

However, in an interview, Rodriguez-Williams said she did not know the contribution was a payment for picking up trash, and she did not call on UW to stop the practice.

“However they conduct their business, I don’t have an opinion about it,” she said when asked if UW should prohibit political parties from performing the service.

Rodriguez-Williams did not reach out to the university before sending her letter.

“I didn’t have any interest in carrying on an investigation or anything like that,” she explained. “I figured various media news outlets would do that.”

Rodriguez-Williams added that the letter had served its intent — to draw attention “to our taxpayer dollars going to political parties.”

It was co-signed by: Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell; Rep. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie; Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette; Rep. Bill Fortner, R-Gillette; Rep. Scott Heiner, R-Green River; Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland; and Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan.

After hearing the explanation of the payments, Rodriguez-Williams was critical of the way the Albany County Democratic Party characterized them in the campaign finance report. She suggested the payments should have been filed as in-kind donations, though those are generally for non-cash contributions.

Given the misunderstanding, Murthy said Monday the Albany County party may amend its filing for the sake of clarity.

“We believe in transparency,” she said. “If there is an opportunity for us to be more clear about the payments we received for services, that’s a good thing.”

UW, meanwhile, may begin signing contracts with trash-picking individuals and groups that clearly indicate they’re being paid for a service. But Baldwin said he didn’t think there was any talk of limiting the types of organizations that can sign up to clean the facilities.

“It helps fill their needs and ours to have this sort of arrangement,” he said.