A WyoFile investigation reveals that scores of Wyoming elected officials, political candidates and party operatives personally accepted at least $3.6 million in federal relief subsidies even as many traded on anti-government-spending policy positions — including public opposition to federal COVID-19 relief funding and efforts to reject dollars for critical state-government programs. 

Some candidates have made campaign promises to reject federal dollars as state lawmakers. Others credit pandemic-related spending by Congress as inspiration to run. At the statehouse last spring, one group of legislators went to similar lengths when they made impassioned yet unsuccessful pleas to send more than $1 billion in stimulus funds back to Washington

However, that fiscal philosophy appears to be easier said than done. Many of those same lawmakers and candidates relied on federal dollars to keep their private businesses running through the COVID-19 pandemic, according to records from the Small Business Administration and the Wyoming Business Council. 

PPP loans

The Paycheck Protection Program was established in 2020 by the Trump administration as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. As one of the federal government’s largest coronavirus relief programs, it offered forgivable loans for businesses to keep their employees on the payroll. The funds could also be used for other costs, such as interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. Issued by private lenders and credit unions, the loans were backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA), a federal agency. (WyoFile received a $60,878 loan in April 2020, since forgiven, based on its then five full-time employees.)

In November 2020, all PPP borrower names were publicly released after a federal judge in Washington ruled in favor of several news organizations. The judge ordered the SBA to release the names, addresses and precise loan amounts for all PPP loans. Subsequently, several searchable databases were created. 

WyoFile’s review of SBA’s PPP loan data involved using the full names of lawmakers and state-wide elected officials of all political affiliations as well as any business enterprises disclosed on their financial disclosure filings. Candidates who have expressed strong opposition to federal government spending were also examined. Additionally, WyoFile sought out Republican and Democratic state party leadership in the records. 

WyoFile also relied on WyOpen, a searchable database created by the state auditor’s office in 2019, to examine Wyoming Business Relief Program records. While separate from the PPP, the state of Wyoming created similar programs using CARES Act dollars to support businesses through grants. The Wyoming Business Council administered many of those grants. 

WyoFile’s review of PPP loan and Wyoming Business Council records indicate at least 30 prospective or sitting lawmakers own or are financially involved with businesses that relied on financial relief from the federal government. Furthermore, there was a significant overlap between those borrowers and Republicans who have publicly opposed state acceptance of federal dollars. WyoFile chose to focus on those who have expressed, either by vote or voice, staunch opposition to federal spending while accepting those dollars in their personal endeavors. 

Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne at the state GOP convention in Sheridan on May 7, 2022. (Maggie Mullen/WyoFile)

What the public records reflect

GOP Chairman Frank Eathorne told WyoFile earlier this year he regretted accepting federal agricultural subsidies totaling $109,000 for the years 2001-2005. 

“Since then, I have learned that government handouts are not for me,” Eathorne said. “They don’t fit my political ideology. If a private business can’t remain in business on its own, it probably shouldn’t be asking for government help.” 

In January 2021, however, Eathorne was approved for a $20,883 PPP loan — the maximum amount that a sole proprietor or self-employed individual could borrow. The loan, taken out under his full name, “William Eathorne,” retained one job, according to the record. Eathorne did not respond to WyoFile’s request for comment. 

PPP loans were designed to be forgiven, but forgiveness was not automatically given. It required a separate application to either the SBA or the borrower’s lender that could be submitted once the entirety of the loan had been spent. 

Eathorne had his loan fully forgiven in January of this year after applying through his lender, Converse County Bank in Douglas. 

Similarly, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell had a PPP loan fully forgiven in September 2021. Rammell also received the maximum amount for a sole proprietor on account of Wyoming Veterinary Center, his animal clinic in Rock Springs. Additionally, Rammell received a $50,000 grant through a federally funded state program meant to provide immediate pandemic relief to businesses that lost revenue due to COVID-19 local or state government health orders. 

This year, Rammell has campaigned for governor on a platform to remove the federal government from Wyoming’s dealings, both by rejecting funding and by taking over federally managed land. Rammell reiterated his political opposition to federal government assistance at a gubernatorial debate in Riverton last week, where he trumpeted his allegiance to free-market capitalism. 

“I want people to attend to their responsibility for their own lives,” he said. “I want them to be prepared for whatever situation, and the last thing that the people of Wyoming should do is get more addicted to federal money.”

Rammell declined to answer WyoFile’s questions for this story. 

Some of the discussion on federal government spending has taken a turn for the ugly this campaign season. In June, Rep. Pat Sweeney (R-Casper) was heckled during a candidate forum in Casper when he said he would not be in favor of eliminating federal dollars from Wyoming’s budget. 

“I understand the anger at the federal government,” Sweeney told WyoFile. “But in reality, it can’t work that way,” referring to Wyoming’s schools, hospitals and nursing homes which he said would cease to function without federal funding. 

Both Sweeney and his primary opponent, Bill Allemand, are involved with private businesses that received PPP loans. But Allemand took a different tack at the June forum. Along with several other House candidates, Allemand said Wyoming should not accept any funding from the federal government and as a lawmaker he would vote according to that political ideology. 

Bill Allemand, Republican candidate for House District 58. (courtesy)

Allemand owns and operates a trucking company out of Midwest. When his first PPP loan was approved — April 8, 2020 — oil demand was sinking. In Wyoming, there were 230 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and a public health order closed public spaces such as schools, restaurants and gyms. Gov. Mark Gordon and other top officials asked residents to stay home when possible. (No shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders were ever enacted, though a short-lived mask mandate went into effect in December 2020.)

“In order to survive what the government was doing to me, I did choose to use the PPP,” Allemand said. 

Allemand’s loans, totaling about $70,000, were fully forgiven and his trucking company remains in business. Still, Allemand faults the federal government. 

“The federal government, who is to take care of this nation, failed,” Allemand said. 

Earlier this month, Harriet Hageman told Wyoming Public Radio she decided to run for federal office instead of pursue another bid at the governor’s seat because of “overspending” by Congress during the pandemic. Some of the spending that came Wyoming’s way, however, buoyed her husband John Sundahl’s law firm as well as several of her family members’ agricultural ventures, including four relatives on her statewide campaign team. The bulk of those five loans amounted to about $130,000 and retained 14 jobs. All were fully forgiven.

Hageman’s campaign declined to answer WyoFile’s questions. In an email, Hageman campaign advisor Tim Murtaugh characterized WyoFile’s inquiry as “political nonsense and journalistic malpractice.” 

Two of Hageman’s Republican opponents in the race for Wyoming’s lone seat in the U.S. House also received federal assistance through PPP loans — Robyn Belinskey ($7,936) and Sen. Anthony Bouchard of Cheyenne ($25,000). 

During a House debate in June, both Belinskey and Bouchard were critical of federal spending when asked about President Joe Biden’s infrastructure law. Belinskey called it “government overreach.” Bouchard used his response time to say he voted against the bill in the Wyoming Legislature used to appropriate American Rescue Plan Act funds. 

“It’s a carrot that has a stick,” Bouchard said. 

Bouchard’s PPP loan was for a septic services company. According to his lawmaker financial disclosure form, Bouchard is involved with the company in a directorship capacity. However, the lawmaker told WyoFile the company belongs to his wife, Billie Jean, and she’s responsible for taking out the loan. According to secretary of state records, a BJ Bouchard is president/director of the company. 

A federally backed loan from a private lender is different from other federal government spending, according to Bouchard. The senator abruptly ended a phone interview before WyoFile could get further clarification. 

Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) holds up a carrot during a hearing on Medicaid expansion May 10, 2021. Bouchard said that accepting incentives from the federal government to expand Medicaid would be akin to “taking the carrot” from the federal government. (Screenshot/Wyoming Legislature)

ARPA stand

Bouchard was not alone in his statehouse stand against ARPA. In the Senate, six other lawmakers voted against the final passage of the bill on third reading — four of which are involved to various degrees with businesses that received PPP dollars. They include Sens. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester), Cale Case (R-Lander), Troy McKeown (R-Gillette) and Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne).   

Sen. Biteman did not respond to WyoFile’s request for comment.

“I am not an opponent of federal funds or I wouldn’t be supporting Medicaid expansion,” Case said. The lawmaker owns and operates a restaurant and hotel in Lander, which took big hits early on in the pandemic, he said. But PPP loans, totaling about $296,000, helped him retain 38 employees, most of which he was initially forced to lay off. 

Case said he voted against the ARPA bill because he was concerned about inflation and the short-term nature of its infusion. 

“The real problem in Wyoming is that the ARPA funding disguised problems with our revenue structure and let us kick the can down the road without dealing with our serious structural deficit,” Case said. 

Nethercott told WyoFile she would not have opposed the bill had the vote been closer.

“It wasn’t anything to do with, ‘we shouldn’t be taking these federal funds’ because we’re in no position to deny them,” Nethercott said. Instead, her vote was in protest of what had been left out of the bill. 

McKeown said it was a difficult decision to apply for PPP loans for his two grocery stores in Wright and Gillette, but he did so “to protect the livelihood of 38 employees and their families.”

The opposition to the ARPA bill, however, was more pronounced down the hall in the House chamber. 

Senate File 66 – American rescue plan act recovery funds appropriations laid out how the state would spend some of the $1 billion-plus Wyoming received through ARPA. Ultimately the bill passed both chambers and a joint conference committee, but not before a group of Republicans initiated a symbolic challenge. During the third reading of the bill, Rep. Bill Fortner (R-Gillette) brought an amendment to delete the enactment clause — a parliamentary maneuver that, if passed, would have killed the bill.

“There’s nothing free. Nothing comes without a price and we’re paying a huge price in Wyoming every time we buy into one of these government programs,” Fortner said on the House floor. 

Fortner withdrew the amendment but several spoke in favor of it and 18 representatives ultimately voted against the passage of the spending bill on third reading. Of those 18, half own or are involved with private businesses or nonprofits that relied on federal dollars to survive the pandemic, including: Reps. Fortner, Ocean Andrew (R-Laramie), Mark Baker (R-Green River), John Bear (R-Gillette), Chuck Gray (R-Casper), Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland), Christopher Knapp (R-Gillette) and Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (R-Cody). 

Bear, who owns and operates a dry-cleaning business in Gillette, also said the decision to take on federal loans was challenging. His business received about $81,000 in PPP funds plus $36,000 through a federally funded Wyoming Business Council grant. 

At the onset of the pandemic, Bear kept his business open and 14 people employed by pivoting. The business advertised laundry services for overworked first responders and clean bedding for those infected with the virus. But that didn’t last and business dried up, Bear said. 

“We could have laid our employees off and closed our doors,” Bear said. “We chose to provide confidence to our employees who depend on us for a secure living by offering them a reduced level of work but a consistent level of pay. We utilized CARES Act dollars to do that.” 

Rep. John Bear (R-Gillette) at the rally in Casper hosted by former President Donald Trump. (Screengrab/Facebook)

On the House floor, Bear urged his colleagues against spending the ARPA funds on “pet projects.” Instead, Bear advocated for putting those dollars into the Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund. His first choice would have been to return those dollars to the federal government, he said, though he knew that was “never going to happen with our current Legislature.”

Still, Bear doesn’t see his political views at odds with his use of federal dollars for his private business dealings. The PPP loans are distinct from other forms of federal government assistance, he said. 

“Business owners were given no choice but to comply with the mandate to close and even if they chose to defy the government edicts, their customers were nowhere to be found as they too were under a government lockdown,” Bear said. 

“Do I believe it’s hypocritical? Sure, maybe in ways it is,” Rep. Jeremy Haroldson said. Haroldson works as a pastor in Wheatland at Impact Ministries, which received about $18,000 through a since-forgiven PPP loan. While Haroldson’s signature appears on the loan application, it was the ministry’s board of directors who decided a PPP loan was necessary, Haroldson said. That was frustrating for Haroldson, but he accepted their decision. 

“That money was already allocated, that money was already going to be spent and those loans were already going to be forgiven,” Haroldson said. “That was just the nature of that monster.”

Accepting federal funding or not must be carefully decided on a  case-by-case basis, according to Rep. Andrew. His vote against the ARPA bill had more to do with how the money was being spent than a political hard line, he said. 

Senate File 66 “was a bill appropriating the funds, not an acceptance or rejection of federal funding,” Andrew said. “I personally voted no because I disagreed with how quickly and for what the funds were being used.”

Where Andrew draws the line on federal funding has to do with the implications of such dollars. If funds came with some sort of strings attached, such as new policy implementation, then Andrew would consider whether his constituents would agree with such policy, he said. 

Andrew’s food truck business received about $484,000 through a PPP loan in order to retain 54 jobs. Andrew stands by his stance on federal government spending, partly because he sees federal funding as money “taken from Wyomingites through either taxation or inflation caused by printing money.

“The system is the problem,” Andrew said, “Ideally, the money would stay in Wyoming and never be filtered through the federal government. Until there is change at the federal level, we are forced to make the most of it.”

In addition to the candidates and lawmakers addressed above, WyoFile identified 14 sitting lawmakers who are involved with private enterprises that also received PPP funds. 

Several lawmakers, including Baker, Gray, Knapp and Rodriguez-Williams, either did not respond to WyoFile’s requests for comment or declined to answer questions. 

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from Sen. Cale Case —Ed.

Maggie Mullen

Maggie Mullen reports on state government and politics. Before joining WyoFile in 2022, she spent five years at Wyoming Public Radio.

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  1. Wow! All I can say is “Wow!” Nothing snarky or pithy to add this time. Just ” Wow”…. I let this article steep awhile; I let it soak in well, and believe it or not….. I came out on the other side feeling genuinely sorry for these folks ( sorry for all of us). There is no explanation, or excuse, or pardon for this behavior. You have laid bare how these people have willfully chosen to lead lives that stand in complete opposition to their espoused aspirations, and their professed worldviews. I know for a fact that I would not be able to morally justify, nor internally reconcile this dichotomy in a healthy manner without some professional intervention. What they do and what they have done is something that they will have to make their own peace with. It is not ours to judge them, but to pray that they might come to a see the chasm that exists between their realities and the actual truth — and to help ease their burdens by never again entrusting them with the heavy responsibility of leadership.

  2. How about a list of everyone who went on unemployment, too? How about a list of Wyoming cities and counties sorted by how much they receive in federal funds (of any type). All the welfare ranchers who bleed republican? List please.

    All those who took out “loans” and are back to profitability need to repay their “loans”. A few millionaires taking the handouts in Jackson couldn’t imagine losing their millionaire status, or second vacation home. Saving jobs or caring for employees was a ruse for some.

    While it provided an economic lifeline for many, the Paycheck Protection Program was a mismanaged and misguided government program from the get go. From my perspective, it was abused by too many employers. It was also a cash payout to many banks that “administered” the “loans”, most of which were unaccountable handouts to the banks and businesses.

    Our elected republicans weren’t the only hypocrites. Try most of Wyoming’s citizens who complain about federal spending while taking the handout. Be it the PPP loans, extended & enhanced unemployment checks, or billions in direct aide to states and local governments, etc. All the unemployment checks were spent buying good and services in Wyoming. You can also bet that many who complained about the enhanced unemployment benefits happily took the cash unemployed people spent.

    Wyoming has always played the begger for federal funds while complaining about federal spending. The people that have lived off of extractive dollars and federal handouts for decades are too used to having others pay their way. I am betting that Jackson, which loves federal spending, is the king of federal handouts to communities that should and can pay their own way.

    Just as Republicans have never seen a handout they didn’t love if they got to spend it, the same is true with democrats. At some point, someone pays for it.

  3. Dang those pesky hypocritical Republicans! What a brave article offered up to the home team, those Subaru, Volvo and Prius owners who oppose all fossil fuel development.
    Hilarious, I love it!

  4. Great reporting Maggie! This should be mandatory curriculum for every Civics / US Government high school student in Wyo. It’s the more in depth version of the guy in the MAGA hat, holding the sign, “Hands Off My Medicare” attending a far-right rally.

  5. This hypocrisy has always been there. Republicans grouse about the Feds but when it comes to acting consistent with their grievance they take the money. Wyoming gets a $1.50 back for every $1 in taxes. Maybe this is why Trump is loved so much by the WY GOP…he takes advantage and lies every chance he gets, they follow their leader.

  6. So tired of the hypocrite rhetoric of folks who have one hand out for federal dole and the other hand giving the government the finger. Get real! Wyoming can’t get by without federal government help – be thankful for how our tax dollars come back to our state through these programs.

  7. WY has always lived in a selective reality. For every tax dollar that WY sends to the federal government it generally gets about a dollar and a half back. Not a bad return on investment. That means other states are subsidizing WY. Some states only get 75cents back for each tax dollar they pay. What a steal.
    WY acceptance of federal dollars by individuals or business owners who are also legislators, who object to WY receiving fed. money for Medicade expansion but accepted cares act money is hypocrisy at best.

  8. From Riverton to Rawlins, Bondurant to Basin, these Bozo’s are rampant. We the voters, who put these types in office, need to hold ourselves accountable. I think Wyoming is #2 (behind Alaska) on federal subsidies and handouts, but #1 on posing as rugged individualists who cries of “don’t need those feds”///////// Hey Wyofile, you forgot to mention SD18 Tim French up here in the Bighorn Basin. Quite the independent, make it on his own type that has reaped 100’s of thousands of fed money via farm subsidies.- Do as a say, not as I do-

  9. Whew……! I thought all of the closet socialists posing as rugged individualist Wyomingites were up here in Cody. Glad to know that they’re actually spread throughout the State. I don’t feel so alone now. Long live the G.O.Hypocritical.P.

  10. Thank you, Maggie Mullen! This is very informative and revealing information. Seems clear that these folks speak out of both sides of their mouths. Very disingenuous. Thanks for going after the truth! We need to hear it!

  11. What? Lying, hypocritical republicans bellying up up to the federal bailout trough again? How could that be?

  12. Thanks, Maggie. A lot of hard work slogging through a mountain of data.

    Thanks, unnamed Judge who ruled it was public information.

    Oddly, I was not surprised by any of it. I felt I had to sanitize my iPad after reading the article.

  13. Great article Maggie! This is professional journalism at its best. The Pulitzer committee should be in contact soon.

  14. I would like to see this article published in every county’s newspaper as well as the Cheyenne and Casper newspapers. The location and web addresses of the databases and other open record entities should be included. The citizens of Wyoming should have the information that the candidates for political office practice different rules of behavior when it came time for loans than they publicly state within the legislature. It appears that many candidates and political officials practice 1 rule for themselves and another for political purposes. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

  15. Just goes to show you just how hypocritical these GOPers are when it comes to accepting federal dollars. They run on anti-Fed platforms and yet, have no problem whatsoever with accepting subsidies and forgivable loans from the Small Business Administration.

    I, for one, was extremely grateful for the PPP loans and Wyoming Business Council loans that our small business received during the pandemic. If not for this assistance we would have had to close our doors after 15 years in business. We support 9 families who are hardworking people. These clowns don’t give a fig about working people. They rattle on and on about how wrong and awful it is to accept federal dollars and then take full advantage of these programs for themselves.

    It’s a handout when other people need it-like Medicaid Expansion-but an entitlement when they need assistance. And the folks around here just keep voting the same takers into office, year after year.

    Hypocrites.

  16. “Rules for thee, not for me….” Perhaps it is time to rebrand the Wyoming GOP as the Wyoming HOP–Hypocritical Old Party! Truth in advertising is a civic virtue!

    1. You must not be from Wyoming. On the Hook has a lot of food trucks that cover a lot of states. There isn’t just one food truck.

    2. He did bring Matt Gaetz to Wyoming so draw your own conclusions about why the trucks are crowded.

      Or maybe this story? Dad financed business in Albany County, the operation runs multiple trucks all up and down the front range hence the number of employees and loan amount.

      Seats in the legislature are easy to buy especially if you are Republican. They have no concern for the Republic.

  17. I guess the current crop of red radicals wouldn’t recognize socialism if it deposited thousands of dollars in their FDIC-insured bank accounts? It sure is tiring seeing people get elected who don’t understand anything but their own self-interest and how to con other people with simplistic solutions and populist slogans. We, as a state, need to vote more responsibly.

  18. Outstanding reporting, thank you. Interesting (sad, really) how these blowhards talk out of both sides of their mouths…..until it’s time to comment when they’ve been exposed. It won’t resonate with many of the sheep following the GOP cult (and before you chirp, I’m a Republican) but hopefully some have their ears on. Goodness do we have some swamp creatures on the ballot….

  19. Yes, the stance of many conservatives is and has been very hypocritical. It is also blind.
    For years the agricultural industry has received enormous government assistance. So has oil and gas. Corporations nationally have received huge amounts of federal aid. Some of this is very productive though and I do not oppose safety nets for the citizens of our country. A country of community and supporting others is not evil socialism.
    Yet many who accept these safety nets begrudge them for others.
    Managing the financial well being of our country is tricky. But, I believe the financial programs put in place during Covid epidemic were a God send of survival for many.
    Stop and reexamine your political beliefs. I’m perfectly ok with helping others when they need it, including those of extremist beliefs. There is nothing wrong with helping and loving others. Try it!

  20. Republicans being sworn into elected office for the first time in Wyoming must take the Hypocritic Oath …

  21. Great reporting Maggie. Thorough, justified and without bias. Wyoming’s Republican blowhards seem to operate on an ethical level with one rule for themselves and another for the rest of Wyoming. Vote them out in the primaries. WY doesn’t benefit from cheats and liars.

  22. Excellent article–shows the importance of reading ACTUAL FACTS and not just listening to candidate ads and Fox News about what politicians such as these Republicans actually do contrasted with their phony rhetoric.

  23. This is hilarious and not at all surprising. What more will it take for people to realize that their beloved gullible old party is filled with liars and hypocrites?

  24. Excellent reporting, Ms. Mullen. I look forward to the followup with additional detail. This shows again that Wyomingites are often the most outspoken, politically conservative “socialists” in the country. Thanks again to WyoFile for keeping us informed.

    1. So using the program as Democrats designed is all of a sudden a moral crime? Spoken like a true Democrat!

      1. It is hypocritical to bash a system as “socialism” and ” government welfare” them take advantage of it all the same.

        Your attempted deflection is spoken like a true gullible old party member.

  25. Thank you.
    Great research and reporting.
    Gotta love how many of them hung up the phone or never responded when faced with the facts of their hypocrisy.

  26. Interesting culture among “Rugged Individuals.” One hand out taking from the federal government….in other words the rest of us….and flipping the government off with the other hand. Ranchers love government grazing rights, then whine loudly about how they get screwed. Same with farm subsidies. Looks to me like they’re all show.

  27. Thank you for this piece and for the hard work that went into it. Given what has transpired in Wyoming politics in the last few years, I am somehow not surprised. I wish I had been surprised.

  28. Thanks for this, pointing out the hypocrisy that prevails in the Republican Party today. It would also be interesting to publish the amount of money WY receives from the Fed over what it pays

    1. Excellent Question, Richard, “to publish the amount of money WY receives from the Fed over what it pays.”

  29. Excellent investigative reporting. What hypocrites! With false tough guy bravado. These people need exposure as the liars and hypocrites they are.

  30. They all suck on the government money Tit. Even the mighty Democrat business person. They blow smoke up everyone’s backside. Yet don’t back the bla bla bla talk up with action. If they did they would refund all the money. WRITE THE CHECK. Back your mouth up.

  31. I’ll take the money, but my pathetic GOP ethics and my ignorance make it impossible to be thankful. It seems that the political brain of Wyoming just keeps dumbing down.