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Archive for Saturday, December 13, 2003

Supreme Court ruling bars transfer of funds between campaign efforts

December 13, 2003

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— Attacking a longtime political practice, the Kansas Supreme Court declared Friday that state law prevents a candidate from transferring funds from one campaign to an effort to win another office.

The question for the court was whether former state Rep. Carlos Mayans could legally transfer $50,000 in legislative campaign funds to his race for Wichita mayor, which he won. The court said he could not.

But the court went further in its unanimous opinion, saying the only times a candidate can transfer from one campaign fund to another is when the candidate is running for re-election or, having lost or retired, is seeking the same office again.

For years, elected officials routinely have used old campaign funds to finance fledgling campaigns for higher office. In 2001, Kathleen Sebelius transferred more than $142,000 from her insurance commissioner's fund to an ultimately successful campaign for governor.

Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, the state's chief elections officer, called the ruling "incredibly broad."

"I think the Legislature is going to have to address the issue," he said. "Boy, that's huge."

In the court's unanimous opinion, Justice Robert Gernon noted the purpose of the state's Campaign Finance Act was to promote fair and open elections and that allowing a candidate to transfer sums from one campaign fund to a campaign for local office ran contrary to that goal.

Furthermore, Gernon wrote, in considering the goal the act and accompanying administrative regulations "must be construed to limit the transfer of campaign contributions" from a candidate's campaign account to an account for the same candidate when seeking the same office.

From House to mayor

Mayans, a Republican, decided in 2002 not to seek re-election to his Kansas House seat and prepared to run for mayor. He transferred $50,000 from his legislative campaign fund to his mayoral campaign, after getting opinions from the city and the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission that doing so was legal.

An opponent, Joan Cole, sued. A district court judge dismissed the lawsuit, but the Kansas Court of Appeals sided with Cole. Mayans appealed to the Supreme Court.

The court did not specify what Mayans must do in response to Friday's ruling. Mayans was not available for comment Friday.

Broad impact

Carol Williams, executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, said commission members and their staff would have to review the decision, but she added that her initial impression was that it could have a broad impact.

Both federal and Kansas laws prevent a state official from transferring funds to a congressional campaign. Also, when a member of Congress seeks state office, such as governor, the transfer from the congressional fund is limited to $2,000.

The Kansas Campaign Finance Act says only that a candidate may transfer funds from a campaign fund to a "bona fide successor candidacy," without defining the term further. For years, the commission has told candidates that allows transfers when they seek new offices.

As for what happens to campaign funds when a candidate seeks another office, Gernon said the Legislature should enact a law for the "orderly return" of such funds.

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