Politics & Government

State law thwarts plan for inaugural charity ball

TOPEKA — Gov.-elect Sam Brownback said he wanted his inaugural ball to raise money for charity, but he ran into an unexpected problem: State law won't allow it.

Costs of the traditional dinner and dance are covered by ticket sales and cash contributions from supporters. Brownback wanted the funding that was left over to be given to charity, but a 1994 law requires that the money go toward the swearing-in ceremony and upkeep of the governor's residence.

Brownback plans to ask legislators to rewrite the law after he takes office Jan. 10, the same day lawmakers open their annual session.

"How much better statement could you make if we said, 'We're going to have a big ball, and we're going to do it very cheap, and every dime over the amount goes to charity?' " Brownback said Tuesday.

He's promising to hold down costs of inaugural events, saying Kansas residents are still feeling the effects of the struggling economy. Charitable events will still be held in three communities as part of the festivities before the inauguration.

Brownback's dinner and ball are scheduled for Jan. 8. Tickets start at $125, though a $500 ticket gets its holder preferred seating at the ball and entry to a VIP reception beforehand.

But the events associated with the inauguration begin Jan. 5 with a blood drive in Hays, followed by a medical supplies repackaging event Jan. 6 at a community health center in Pittsburg and the stuffing of backpacks with food for needy children Jan. 7 at the Kansas Food Bank in Wichita.

"I don't want to send a message of a big expensive ball," Brownback said. "I want to send the message that we want to help Kansans."

Brownback's inaugural committee also has a prayer service scheduled for Jan. 9 at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe. The swearing-in ceremony for Brownback and other statewide elected officials will be at 11 a.m. Jan. 10 on the south steps of the Statehouse.

Legislators enacted the law that prevents Brownback from having a charity ball as a reaction to Democratic Gov. Joan Finney's inaugural in 1991.

Like other governors before and since, she relied on private funds for the festivities outside the swearing-in ceremony. Her ball was free, but her inaugural committee hit up dozens of corporations for up to $10,000 each.

State law now limits contributions to $2,000, outside of ticket purchases, and requires inaugural committees to publicly disclose their donors. The law also requires that leftover funds go to the state to defray costs associated with the swearing-in ceremony, then toward upkeep at Cedar Crest, the governor's residence.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he has no problem with Brownback's proposal to allow extra funds to go to charity. He said that after a three-year, $4.4 million renovation completed in 2000, the governor's residence is "in pretty good shape."

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said that once the state's costs for the swearing-in are defrayed, "If we could go beyond that to assist some charities, that would be terrific."