Corporations, unions and political action committees will no longer be prohibited from contributing to local campaigns.
The Wichita City Council voted 4-3 to approve the change Tuesday based on a staff recommendation citing recent campaign finance court rulings.
Council members also unanimously approved salary increases of 8.1 to 10.6 percent for themselves after deferring raises during the recession. The change makes the salaries more uniform at $40,000 for council members and $90,000 for the mayor, the only full-time elected official.
Mayor Jeff Longwell and Council Members Jeff Blubaugh, Pete Meitzner and James Clendenin voted for the campaign finance measure, although Clendenin said he did so grudgingly.
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Council Members Janet Miller, Lavonta Williams and Bryan Frye were firmly against it.
The majority said they did not think the move would greatly affect local elections, particularly since the contributions would be limited to $500, like individual contributions.
“I’ve watched PAC money try to support issues and people and win elections locally and federally and lose elections...PAC money doesn’t win every election by far from what I’ve seen,” Meitzner said.
“If good candidates are good, they will continue to be elected today and tomorrow.”
Longwell said he didn’t think the change would make much of an impact.
“I haven’t seen a local election where Americans For Prosperity didn’t weigh in in some form or another. The Chamber PAC has weighed in with local elections nearly every time in the last 10 years.”
But those who oppose the measure said they were concerned about opening up local elections to party-affiliated groups like PACs and about transparency since PACs do not have to report their individual donors.
“Individuals should decide elections, not corporations,” Frye said.
Several members of the public spoke against the changes.
“People in the shadows are going to be pulling your strings,” said Russ Pataki.
“It’s very worrisome what big money has done to state and national politics. The city has been independent (of that),” said Lynn Stephan to the council before the vote. “You have a freedom from influence the state and nation don’t enjoy.”
The council also voted unanimously to move local elections to the fall from the spring, a change mandated by the state Legislature.
How they voted
Here’s how Wichita City Council members voted on a proposal to allow political action committees, corporations and unions to contribute to city campaigns.
Yes: Mayor Jeff Longwell, Jeff Blubaugh, James Clendenin, Pete Meitzner
No: Bryan Frye, Janet Miller, Lavonta Williams