A Wichita group’s effort to form a committee to “fix stupid” in Kansas politics has snagged the state’s top election official, Kris Kobach, who may be running a political action committee that is illegally named.
Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, will be getting a letter from the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission questioning the legality of using the name “Prairie Fire PAC” for his political fundraising committee, said Carol Williams, executive director of the commission.
State law requires PACs that are affiliated with a larger corporation or organization to note that in their name. Unaffiliated PACs must use names indicating who’s involved or the cause the PAC is advocating for, Williams said.
Kobach said Wednesday his interpretation is the law doesn’t apply to a PAC like his.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Wichita Eagle
The issue arose this week after political activists in Wichita tried to register a PAC they wanted to call “It’s Time to Fix Stupid.” They got a letter from the ethics commission saying: “The name of your political action committee, It’s time to fix stupid, must be changed or expanded upon to more clearly reflect your interest.”
The Eagle found four existing PACs whose names did not appear to have a connection to their sponsors or missions: Kobach’s committee, Prairie Fire; Gov. Sam Brownback’s Road Map PAC; Bluestem PAC, started by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius; and D Wild Ones, a group of Pittsburg Democrats.
Brownback’s PAC name is OK because it’s incorporated and includes the corporation name, Williams said.
But Kobach’s PAC didn’t take the additional step of incorporating, so its name may not comply with the law, Williams said.
She said she will also consult with agency counsel about Bluestem and D Wild Ones, and they also may get letters from the commission about their names.
Kobach said he modeled the name Prairie Fire on Sebelius’ PAC.
“Gov. Sebelius’ choice of the bluestem was one we were very familiar with,” he said. “It’s a Kansas icon, and so is the prairie fire. We were thinking of the Bluestem (PAC) when we chose Prairie Fire.”
Prairie Fire is a “leadership PAC,” the term used for committees attached to state office holders and legislators. Kobach said he doesn’t think the naming law applies to leadership PACs because it specifies committees that are “not connected or affiliated with any one organization.” He said he interprets that to mean PACs that represent more than one organization, not PACs representing an individual officeholder.
He said it may take an opinion from the attorney general to sort the situation out and if he has to, he will incorporate his PAC or change its name.
“It’s not the end of the world,” he said. “It’s just a name.”
What’s in a name?
Wichita television personality R.J. Dickens, the chairman and treasurer of It’s Time to Fix Stupid, laughed when he found out Kobach might also have to change his PAC’s name.
“I love it; that’s just great,” said Dickens, news director at KCTU-TV.
He said the flap over PAC naming, covered in a Wednesday morning story on Kansas.com, had brought a lot of attention to It’s Time to Fix Stupid.
The group launched a website, itstimetofixstupid.com, 26 days ago. On Wednesday, the site got 12,000 visitors.
“The biggest day we had prior to that was 50,” he said.
Dickens said the situation “just seems ridiculous” and that the name It’s Time to Fix Stupid is directly reflective of what his group wants to do.
The group plans to use its website to hold a “Stupid Tuesday” primary in August to identify those who are deemed to be the stupidest legislators in the Kansas Statehouse and to direct campaign donations to those legislators’ opponents. Nominations are already being accepted at the website.
“Kansas has the third-least-educated legislature in the country,” Dickens said. “We want to target some of these people who have basically embarrassed the state with their stupidity.”
Eventually, they hope to branch out and form a national super-PAC to target “stupid” candidates around the country, Dickens said.
All that’s fine and dandy, said Williams, the ethics commission official. But the PAC’s proposed name just doesn’t comply with state law.
“We used to have, before the statute came into play, all these groups – Citizens for Good Government, Citizens for Fair Government, Good Government People. Well, what does that mean?” she said. “They were all associations. They were wine and spirits, they were a rural electric cooperative.”
That, she said, masked who was really contributing to campaigns, undercutting the purpose of the state’s campaign finance disclosure law.
“The law was changed to require political action committees to, in their name, identify,” she said.
Political committees that aren’t associated with a larger organization are required to use names that give at least a hint of who they are and what cause they’re advocating for, she said.
“If they’re Kansans or Wichitans or Democrats or Republicans, there’s got to be something in the name that’s going to at least let us know animal, mineral, vegetable,” she said.
She said she sent a similar letter this week to a group trying to register “The Mod Squad” as its PAC name.
While political junkies would get the joke – it’s a shorthand reference to moderates – others might think it had something to do with “The Mod Squad,” a hippie-cop television show of the late 1960s and early ’70s, she said.
Williams said the commission staff regularly works with grassroots groups to come up with PAC names that do meet state law requirements – and they are willing to help It’s Time to Fix Stupid.
In the meantime, Dickens said, group members have been tossing around some alternate names, including Committee for Government Intelligence, Citizens Opposed to Moronic Officials and Committee for Reasonable Proficiency Requirements – acronym pronounced “crapper.”
Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.