Editorials

In or out, Lyndy? Wells should act quickly on his write-in campaign for Wichita mayor

Things just got more interesting in the Wichita mayor’s race, with advocates launching a “Run Lyndy Run” campaign to draft local businessman Lyndy Wells as a write-in candidate.

Before that effort gets too far, though, voters should demand fairness and transparency from everyone involved: And all candidates, including potential write-ins, should follow the rules for campaign contributions and spending limits.

As the Eagle reported this week, Wichita restaurateur Jon Rolph purchased about $9,000 of advertising time for a television commercial featuring former mayors Bob Knight and Carl Brewer.

The ad urges Wells to get back in the Nov. 5 mayoral election as a write-in candidate against incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell and state Rep. Brandon Whipple. Wells finished third in a nine-candidate field in the Aug. 6 mayoral primary.

So far Wells sounds noncommittal about a write-in campaign, saying he’s “giving it every consideration” and wants to gauge community sentiment, but that he’s “not there yet.”

He should decide soon, for at least one reason: Money spent on a campaign without a candidate’s consent is not subject to spending limits under the Kansas Campaign Finance Act.

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That means Rolph, president and CEO of Thrive Restaurant Group, potentially could spend as much as he wants on a “Run Lyndy Run” effort, under the assumption that it’s not with Wells’ express consent.

Rolph says he launched the write-in effort because he thinks Longwell’s handling of a city water plant contract is “ethically bankrupt.” He said he thinks Whipple, Longwell’s opponent, lacks the experience to lead the city.

Whether they agree with that assessment or not, Wichita voters deserve to know as soon as possible who the serious candidates are and whether Wells still has mayoral aspirations.

If he wants to get back in the race, Wells should decide quickly and then be upfront about campaign contributions and spending.

If he consented or coordinated with Rolph on the write-in campaign ads, he would be required to list the expenditure as an in-kind contribution on his campaign finance forms. If he didn’t, Rolph or others who financed the ads will be required to complete an independent expenditure disclosure report by an Oct. 28 deadline.

Beyond the campaign finance implications, voters deserve clarity about their choices for Wichita mayor and instructions on how to cast a write-in vote if they choose to do so.

The last time there was a serious write-in effort in Wichita was 2003, when two candidates — Jane Knight, Bob Knight’s wife; and former City Council member Joan Cole — garnered 31 percent of the vote.

That was prior to our current touch-screen voting machines. Election officials say the modern machines will not accept pre-printed name stickers, which some write-in candidates have distributed in the past, so any write-in candidate’s primary charge will be informing voters where and how to enter his name.

Wichita voters will go to the polls in about three weeks to select the city’s next mayor. If Wells seriously wants to be part of that process, he should say so quickly and clearly.

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