Kansas acts on campaign reforms – KC Star

Posted on Sat, Apr. 14, 2007

Kansas acts on campaign reforms
Small-step changes include financial reporting and automated calling.
The Kansas City Star

Kansas voters will see some changes next year when the political campaign season rolls around.

Remember those automated phone messages — “robo” calls — for this or that candidate? Some were a mystery because there was no way of knowing who was behind them.

“Everyone was so disgusted with them last year,” said Rep. Sue Storm, an Overland Park Democrat and a member of the committee that took action on a new bill.

Before adjourning April 3, the Legislature approved a bill requiring such calls to identify who is behind them.

Another measure that is nearing enactment would close a loophole in the current campaign finance law that allows an 11-day “blackout period” before Election Day. Under current law, candidates running for a state, county or city office do not have to report contributions received during those 11 days until after the general or primary election.

Under Senate Bill 196, they would be required to report contributions and expenses for that period. Action is expected on that bill during the wrap-up session scheduled to begin April 25.

“We want to know where the money’s coming from and where it’s going to,” said Rep. Sheryl Spalding, an Overland Park Republican.

The first bill, House Bill 2081, also includes a provision that will allow candidates to file their expense and contribution reports electronically. The secretary of state’s office is being required to set up a system for electronic filing.

Carol Williams , executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, said that would allow the public more access to information on the contributors. Williams said Iowa approved a bill requiring reports be filed electronically. It will be optional under the new Kansas law.

Information about a candidate’s contributors is available on the commission’s Web site but often isn’t posted until after the election because commission employees must enter the data by hand from a printed report that could be hundreds of pages long. Electronic filing will streamline that process, Williams said.

Supporters aren’t calling the bills major reform but small steps.

A big step that failed to get much consideration would have required issue advocacy groups to file campaign finance reports. They are currently exempt as long as they do not specifically ask people to vote for or against a particular candidate.

But they can savagely attack a candidate and do not have to disclose who is paying for the attacks.

Williams said she was seeing more and more of these independent, issue advocacy campaigns each campaign season.

“You can do a lot in secret,” she said. “It’s becoming a big influence in our elections.”

Williams was told that the bill on issue advocacy campaigns would be considered next year.

“I’m hearing about things going on in campaigns that I didn’t even know existed,” Spalding said.

To reach Jim Sullinger, call 1-(785) 354-1388 or send e-mail to jsullinger@kcstar.com. © 2007 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.kansascity.com