People could spend up to $1,000 to sway lawmakers without registering as a lobbyist under a bill proposed Monday.
Kansas has had a $100 threshold since 1975.
After 40 years of inflation, the state should raise it to ensure private residents don’t inadvertently break the state’s ethics laws, said Carol Williams, executive director of the Kansas Government Ethics Commission. She presented the proposal to the House Elections Committee on Monday afternoon.
HB 2082 would allow private residents “more flexibility when there’s an issue that really concerns them and they want to urge action by the Legislature,” she said.
“A stamp 40 years ago … was 10 cents. And now it’s 49 cents,” she said. “So you can’t send as many mailings as you could’ve then. Obviously newspaper ads do not cost what they did 40 years ago. So after 40 years shouldn’t this be looked at and made more current?”
The current $100 cap does not include the money someone spends to drive to Topeka or stay overnight. It does include money spent on gifts or dinners for lawmakers or money spent on political mailings and newspaper ads.
Lawmakers can accept an unlimited amount of free food and drink from lobbyists during the session, but lobbyists must report the money they spend to the state.
Williams was the only person to testify at the hearing. She said the bill would not have an impact on industry lobbyists, who register and typically spend well above the minimum threshold.
Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said he is concerned about the influence of money in politics, but said he trusted Williams’ judgment that the bill “would just keep ordinary citizens from accidentally running afoul of the law.”
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” he added.
Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Shawnee, said he was conflicted about the bill.
“I definitely see the standpoint of the average citizen … using their First Amendment rights to voice their opinion and not knowing that they’re breaking any reporting laws,” he said. “On the other hand, you’ve got the other side of the free speech issue, where people want to know where that money’s coming from.”