Technology industry executive and gubernatorial candidate Sam Galeotos appears to have the support of the state’s Chief Information Officer Tony Young, though Young said the use of his official title in an endorsement resulted from a misunderstanding.
Young was announced as a member of Galeotos’ Business Advisory Roundtable on May 24. An email press release listed the names of the members under a banner saying “We support Sam Galeotos for Governor!” Young was listed as CIO for the state of Wyoming with his photo included.
State employee guidelines admonish against publicly backing political candidates and such endorsements are unusual. Young’s agency — the Wyoming Department of Enterprise Technology Services — has contracts with Green House Data, a technology company where Galeotos is the chairman of the board.
In an interview last week, Young said he did not intend to endorse the candidate, at least not in his official position. Still, he said, when reviewing the crowded primary field, “of course I’m going to gravitate to Mr. Galeotos because he’s got a very successful tech background.”
As Galeotos campaigns as a “political outsider,” the incident illustrates some of his connections to business in Wyoming’s capital and its frequent overlap with state government.
The technology industry has became a target for state leaders seeking diversify the economy. Likewise awarding state business to instate firms is a point of emphasis in Cheyenne. Green House Data benefitted from state grants at key points in its history, helping the company emerge as a success story for Wyoming, one that Galeotos often references on the campaign trail.
Galeotos would seek to continue growing the industry from the governor’s mansion, he said. But if elected he intends to entirely remove himself from Green House Data to avoid conflicts of interest, he told WyoFile.
“I would probably immediately resign as chairman and also liquidate any investment I have in the company as soon as possible,” Galeotos said.
He would do so “well before I specifically have any responsibilities with the state,” he said.
Green House Data is paid $29,950 a month by the Department of Enterprise Technology Services — a public agency that handles much of Wyoming’s state IT needs — according to Jackie Childress, the agency’s chief financial officer. The company also received a noncompetitive contract of $94,992 in 2017 with the Department of Environmental Quality, according to a list of noncompetitive bids awarded by state agencies.
Since May, the company has also received payments in various amounts less than $1,000 from the District Attorney of Laramie County and the Department of Transportation, according to the Wyoming state auditor’s website. The website only shows payments made within the last 90 days. Cheyenne is only one piece of Green House Data’s customer base — the technology services company has data centers in nine different states.
Galeotos joined Green House Data’s board in April of 2014, shortly after the company doubled its workforce, according to a press release at the time. That same spring, ETS began contracting with Green House Data for space to store some state computer servers, as construction on Wyoming’s State Capitol necessitated a move out of previous office space.
At that time, Wyoming’s CIO was Flint Waters. Young was serving as Gov. Matt Mead’s Deputy Chief of Staff, a position he held for five years, according to Young’s LinkedIn profile. Young is a longtime member of Mead’s inner circle, Cheyenne observers say. The two men share backgrounds in law enforcement and Young helped run Mead’s first campaign for governor, according to LinkedIn.
Young was surprised to see his state title in the campaign press release about the business roundtable, he said.
“I called the campaign after I saw that and I said ‘listen, don’t leverage my position as a state employee,’” he said. “Obviously I get it, the ‘Chief Information Officer’ has more influence,” than just the name Tony Young, he said.
Young had misunderstood what the campaign initially wanted, he said.
“One of his people called and said ‘would you be interested in helping Sam Galeotos, candidate for governor,’” Young said, “‘by advising on tech, growth and jobs.’”
But, “I didn’t want it published as Chief Information Officer supporting Sam for governor,” Young said. “That’s not my position, my position is I’d help any candidate.”
Galeotos’ communications director, Amy Edmonds, said Friday the campaign has stopped referring to Young’s title in campaign materials. “As soon as he called us we fixed that error,” she said.
Before Friday, a press release announcing the roundtable on the campaign’s website still included “Tony Young, CIO, State of Wyoming” in a list of members. The press release has since been removed.
The state has a handbook for state employees that warns them against political involvement but does not clearly prohibit agency heads or other employees from joining campaigns.
“Employees shall not use official authority or influence to interfere with or influence the results of an election or nomination for office,” the rules say.
Like many rules on conflicts of interest and ethical behavior in Wyoming state government, the manual is difficult to interpret and apply in a state where many people work in or with government.
“I would hate to see state employees be afraid to write a Facebook comment supporting a candidate,” said Marguerite Herman, a good-government advocate and director of the League of Women Voters of Wyoming. But higher-ranking employees should use more caution with their political activities, she said.
“You could draw a line based on prominence [of the state employee] and how much the candidate uses it in campaign literature and how much that would be appropriate,” Herman said.
State agency heads and other appointed members of executive staff are supposed to be nonpartisan, she said. An endorsement from an agency head could also be felt as pressure by employees of that agency, Herman said.
Galeotos campaigns as political outsider
A recent Galeotos campaign ad compares the candidate to President Trump as a businessman and “political outsider.”
Galeotos has indeed never held public office. His campaign has centered on his background as a technology businessman, and Galeotos argues that background will help him stimulate economic diversification and free enterprise in the state.
But the native of the capital city’s campaign is not without staffing and support from veterans of Wyoming politics, both in and out of public office. His campaign is chaired by Matt Micheli, the former chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party and a partner at the Cheyenne law firm of Holland & Hart.
Other members of the prominent law firm, whose lobbyists frequently represent the interests of a wide variety of industries, have also backed Galeotos’ campaign. Public statements of support have come from Robert Jensen, a former CEO of the Wyoming Business Council and a prominent lobbyist. At the state’s GOP convention in April, Galeotos was endorsed by Sen. Affie Ellis (R-Cheyenne), according to a report in the Casper Star-Tribune. The former lobbyist and first-term senator also is employed by Holland & Hart.
Galeotos secured an important endorsement from former U.S. Rep. and Cheyenne native daughter Cynthia Lummis within two months of announcing his run. Cheyenne architect Sen. Stephen Pappas (R) also backs him.
Galeotos’ business success did not happen in Cheyenne. He worked for a technology startup in Denver that was acquired by Delta Airlines and that moved Galeotos to Atlanta, according to a biography on his campaign site. He then went on to lead two other large travel corporations outside the state.
Upon returning to Wyoming he was recruited by Green House Data to serve on its board four years ago. “My role has largely been management, raising capital,” he said. The company has recently acquired several other national companies and Galeotos has spent much of his time generating leads for its expansion around the country, he said.
Before Galeotos joined the company, Green House Data received grants from the Wyoming Business Council — a body frequently maligned by some of Galeotos’ campaign rivals.
The Business Council provided a $1.5 million grant to help Green House Data cover costs for broadband and utilities as it developed its data center in Cheyenne, according to a report in the Casper Star-Tribune. It later provided another $2.25 million to help the company with an expansion projected to cost $35 million, according to the news report. Green House Data is headquartered in Cheyenne. A separate Galeotos business venture developing restaurants in Cheyenne is looking to add another 100 jobs to the state, according to the Galeotos’ campaign.
The Wyoming Business Council’s grant programs have faced some criticism following a report unveiled in May by the Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee. Economic analysts found that job increases in industries outside the fossil fuel sectors actually drain state coffers in the long run, because the amount the government spends on residents is subsidized by the energy industry.
Like all the Republican candidates, Galeotos has said he is opposed to increasing taxes or creating new ones to correct the imbalance, preferring instead to try and further trim the cost of government.
But from Galeotos’ perspective, the Wyoming Business Council grants were a success that helped drive a new industry with high-paying job
s into the state. The grants didn’t just help Green House Data, Galeotos said, but encouraged the development of better broadband and electrical infrastructure for Laramie County.
It made faster internet cheaper for everyone, he said. “There’s a lot of other halo impacts that occurred because of that.”
Since that time, other data centers and technology companies have come to Laramie County, he said. Satellite communications company EchoStar, a Microsoft data center and the NCAR supercomputer all can trace their roots back to those infrastructure investments, Galeotos said. “There has been millions of dollars in private capital investment,” as a result, he said.
“Whoever the visionaries were at the time who had the idea for that,” he said, “well, wow, it worked.”
Jensen, the Holland & Hart lobbyist who is backing Galeotos’ campaign, was head of the Wyoming Business Council at the time.
Wyoming’s government is seeking to export more of its data storage, Young said. In doing so it’s following the lead of other states, he said, who have found it cheaper to rent space in data centers or use more cloud internet storage than to maintain such infrastructure themselves.
As such, there’s likely to be increasing overlap between the interests of technology companies and the interests of the state. Mead has seen that as an opportunity to foster Wyoming’s burgeoning technology sector and Galeotos echoes that.
Following a recommendation of the ENDOW council, Gov. Matt Mead issued an executive order in January directing state agencies to take measures ensuring more of those contracts would go to Wyoming companies.
That order makes sense, Galeotos said: “We have a lot of good companies in the state right now and we need to make sure that they have an opportunity to bid on state contracts.”
Some advisors recommended Galeotos consider holding his investments in Green House Data in a trust during his time as governor, he said. He prefers to remove himself from the company entirely, he said, and will start to look at how to best do so if he is successful in the Republican primary.
If elected governor, “I would not be invested in Green Houses or have anything to do with it anymore,” he said.
The commitment, the League of Women Voters’ Herman said, should ease voters’ minds that if elected Galeotos would not conflate his own business with Wyoming’s.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to note that a Sam Galeotos enterprise separate from Green House Data — restaurants in Cheyenne — is seeking to add 100 jobs to the state, not Green House Data as previously reported. -Ed.