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Chapman Rackaway: Increase disclosures of campaign finance

  • Published Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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There’s a new controversy at the intersection of primary fights and campaign finance. It centers on one of the final artifacts of the era of moderate Republican control of the Kansas Senate.

Former Senate President Steve Morris had a powerful fundraising tool, a leadership PAC known as the Senate Republican Leadership Committee. During Morris’ time as president, the SRLC was a way for Senate Republicans to raise funds for campaigns during election years, given that Kansas’ archaic rules prohibit any direct fundraising by candidates or parties during the legislative session.

The SRLC does not belong to the state Republican Party, So the state GOP has no ability to claim or run it. This firewall became important when Morris and other Republicans in the Senate were challenged in the 2012 GOP primary. The SRLC was the main vehicle through which the pro-Morris moderates campaigned in 2012.

When the moderate Republicans lost their primaries, Morris was not about to turn the SRLC over to the party’s apparatus, the same group that engineered his defeat. Instead, Morris handed control of the SRLC to a loyalist, moderate GOP activist Ryan Wright. Now the main in-session fundraising arm of Senate Republicans is out of the hands of the majority party in the chamber.

The new conservative supermajority in the Senate can’t just create a new leadership PAC, because legislation was passed a few years ago banning the creation of leadership PACs that can raise funds during the session. The SRLC is more than 20 years old and was grandfathered. To add insult to injury, not only did Republicans lose the SRLC but Democrats are still able to use their grandfathered leadership PAC.

House Bill 2342, currently under discussion in the Kansas Senate, would ban leadership PACs and require all future non-candidate committees to be formed by party organizations and not legislators. In other words, if Republicans can’t raise funds during the session, they want to be sure Democrats can’t do it either.

The ban on in-session fundraising is largely symbolic, as there is no evidence from volumes of academic campaign-finance literature showing campaign donations triggering specific voting results. But if the Legislature is truly worried about the appearance of undue influence by contributors, there are much more effective reforms, such as expanding the disclosure regime.

Requiring monthly reports available immediately online for review and mandatory reporting of every contribution, as well as ending anonymous contributions, would make a more transparent campaign-finance system, allowing accountability to follow the money to whichever party or candidate receives it.

Chapman Rackaway is a political science professor at Fort Hays State University.

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