Thousands of attack ads funded by dark money and using smear tactics once foreign to local Jackson and Teton County races were stuffed into U.S. Post Office boxes in the valley on Tuesday.
The advertisements were produced by an out-of-state conservative political action committee that was launched by Charlie Kirk, whose organization, Turning Point USA, got off the ground with seed money from deep-pocketed Jackson Hole businessman Foster Friess. Turning Point Action split off from Turning Point USA to get more directly involved in campaign politics.
The glossy mailers hitting Jackson Hole P.O. boxes featured an old mugshot of Town Council candidate and sitting Mayor Pete Muldoon. More typical in big city, statehouse, congressional and presidential races, such tactics had until now not entered town of Jackson or Teton County races.
A corresponding full-page mailer sent by the same PAC, Turning Point Action, endorsed three conservative-leaning council and mayoral candidates: Jim Rooks, Devon Viehman and Michael Kudar.
To varying degrees the same three candidates condemned Turning Point’s smear campaign on Tuesday.
Rooks, a former science teacher vying for the Town Council, rebuked the out-of-state group’s intrusion into the nonpartisan race for a seat on a board governing a town of 10,000 or so residents.
“They used my name and image without even letting me know,” Rooks told the News&Guide. “I was surprised and disappointed and a little bit pissed off.”
Rooks said he had turned down funds from Friess in the past, dating to when he was running a civic engagement team, We the People, at Jackson Hole High School. His last brush with Turning Point USA came a few months ago, when the group’s founder, Kirk, spoke at an event Friess had organized at Snow King.
“I would almost completely, totally disavow everything I heard that night,” Rooks said. “I’m not an expert on Turning Point, but I know that one part of what Charlie Kirk has done is basically criticize higher education in America as being overtly liberalized.”
The longtime, now-retired schoolteacher found Kirk’s comments to be “anti-intellectual” and “anti-academic.”
Friess, a 2018 gubernatorial candidate who organized that event, responded to the News&Guide’s request for an interview. But the 80-year-old responded in an email that contained no content. Subsequent attempts to reach him Tuesday failed.