National rankings show Kansas government to be weak on transparency and ethical accountability. But when state lawmakers should be looking for more ways to shed light on lobbying and campaign spending, some are eyeing an overhaul of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.
Complaining that the 39-year-old commission has been tougher on conservative Republicans than other officials with its investigations and fines, House Elections Committee Chairman Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, told Associated Press that he expects his panel to consider taking away the commission’s enforcement duties and imposing term limits on commission members. His Senate counterpart, Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, agreed there is interest in reform.
But the nine commissioners are appointed by the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, Kansas Supreme Court chief justice and legislative leaders. If commissioners appear politically biased or the commission is doing a bad job – and it isn’t – the commissioners can be replaced. There is no need to shift enforcement to county attorneys or the attorney general, where governmental ethics would be a lesser priority. And the conduct the commission sanctions speaks for itself, including failing to report campaign contributions and spending and illegally soliciting contributions from lobbyists during a legislative session. The commission also watchdogs state employees’ ethics, fining former University of Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins, for example, for improperly accepting exercise equipment from a vendor.
If state legislators go after the enforcement powers of the ethics commission or otherwise meddle with its independence and important work, they will erode public trust in state government in general and this Legislature in particular.