Unsolicited text messages containing falsehoods about Wyoming secretary of state candidate Tara Nethercott landed in the inboxes of an untold number of Wyoming voters in recent days.
The messages, sent just days before the Aug. 16 primary election, came from phone numbers that included Wyoming’s 307 area code and included disclosures that they were paid for by the Committee to Elect Chuck Gray, Nethercott’s opponent in the race. The texts charge that Nethercott is “Being sued for lying and slander,” that she’s “Being investigated for violating state campaign $$$ law,” and allege she cast a vote, “Giving herself a $30k tax-payer-funded raise.”
WyoFile fact-checked those claims and determined none of the allegations are accurate.
Nethercott, who’s a Cheyenne attorney and two-term state senator, said she received the text messages on her own cell phone. WyoFile staff also received multiple unsolicited texts containing the unfounded accusations between Aug. 12 and Aug. 14.
Nethercott called the statement about her being sued “blatantly untrue.”
“I have not been sued,” she said. “I called the Laramie County District Court to see if there was a lawsuit filed, and there was not one filed where I was a party of any kind.”
The Wyoming Rule of Civil Procedures states that defendants named in civil lawsuits be notified or “served” within 90 days, or the complaint is dismissed. So if Nethercott isn’t notified, any lawsuit against her is essentially meaningless, according to Cheyenne attorney David Evans. (Disclosure: Evans is a member of the WyoFile board of directors.)
“A lawsuit does not go forward in any way, unless the defendant is properly served and notified,” Evans said.
Gray, a state representative from Casper, declined to discuss the accuracy of the texts the Committee to Elect Chuck Gray commissioned. Reached via email, Gray would not answer questions, instead providing a statement that accused Nethercott of lying and distributing a “false, defamatory mailer.”
The mailer criticized Gray for loaning $300,000 to one of his previous campaigns, as he reported, while only earning around $11,000 in income during 2021. The implausibility that the funds were Gray’s own led former Secretary of State Max Maxfield, who endorsed Nethercott, to file a federal complaint against Gray alleging campaign finance law violations. Gray has since said the $300,000 was an inheritance from his late grandfather.
Nethercott is not being investigated for violating campaign finance law — another of the text messages’ accusations — according to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office. The agency has not received any complaints related to campaign finance reports for the primary elections, Wyoming Secretary of State communications and policy director Monique Meese told WyoFile.
Asked by WyoFile if her office was the only state entity to investigate campaign violations, Meese replied: “yes.”
“We have received a complaint regarding Senator Nethercott’s signs,” Meese said. “While our office would normally review a complaint for merit prior to sending the matter to the AG’s office, we declined to do that in this case out of an abundance of caution due to the involvement of candidates for the Secretary of State.”
The claim that Nethercott voted to give herself a pay raise is also demonstrably false.
That sentence of the pro-Gray attack-ad text presumably alludes to House Bill 96 – State officials salary, legislation from the 2022 budget session which increased salaries for the five statewide elected officials between 36% and 38%. Nethercott and 57 other members of the Wyoming Legislature voted in favor of the measure, which boosted the secretary of state’s salary from $92,000 to $125,000. Gray voted nay on the bill.
Nethercott cast her vote to raise the pay of an office she didn’t hold roughly four months before the incumbent Secretary of State Ed Buchanan announced he wouldn’t seek reelection. Gov. Mark Gordon has since appointed him to a judgeship. She hadn’t considered running for the office prior to Buchanan’s announcement, Nethercott said.
Although the text message accusations targeting Nethercott don’t hold water, she worries that they’ll have an effect on Tuesday’s primary election.
“I do think that it works, and I think that’s why people do it,” Nethercott said. “It’s unfortunate.”