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Archive for Sunday, August 15, 2004

Money talks

National anti-tax groups are letting their money do the talking in Kansas legislative races.

August 15, 2004

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Remember the advice of Watergate informer "Deep Throat"? "Follow the money," he told the Washington Post reporters.

Following the money in this month's primary elections may make some Kansans a little uneasy about the influence that donations from undisclosed sources is wielding in their political process and, subsequently, their state government.

A story in Friday's Journal-World outlined the role of two Washington, D.C.-based anti-tax groups in influencing Republican primary races for seats in the Kansas Legislature. One, called Americans for Prosperity, opened a Kansas office this spring and spent more than $100,000 on mailings to urge Kansans to tell their legislators to reject tax increases.

Additional mailings before the primary told voters to thank certain legislators who fought against taxes. Because they didn't specifically advocate voting for those legislators, the group won't ever have to report where its funding came from or how it was spent in Kansas.

The leader of another anti-tax group called Club for Growth has said the goal of his group is to make sure that within five years, there are no pro-tax Republicans in Kansas. How about pro-education Republicans? Or pro-economic development Republicans?

Kansas Club for Growth already has succeeded in defeating three of those "pro-tax Republicans" by spending what a local organizer said was "scores of thousands" of dollars on campaign mailings in three legislative races. Two of those legislators were Rep. Bill Kassebaum of Burdick and Cindy Neighbor of Shawnee, who helped lead an unsuccessful bipartisan effort to raise taxes to benefit public schools in Kansas. That certainly qualifies them for the anti-tax public enemies list.

A Kansas Club for Growth representative said the campaign was funded by individuals and corporations in Kansas, but there's no way to confirm that because funding reports don't have to be filed until Oct. 25. Even though Shari Weber, who beat Kassebaum, said she knew nothing about Club for Growth, the group mailed thousands of postcards and purchased radio ads denouncing Kassebaum during the last week of the campaign.

These tactics shouldn't sit well with Kansans. Money from undisclosed sources is being poured into campaigns to influence the membership of the Kansas Legislature. The only goal, apparently, is to prevent tax increases, not to support candidates who make a thoughtful, well-intentioned effort to take action that is in the best interests of the state. These contributions take a pretty narrow view of what is best for the future of Kansas.

But the worst part is that Kansans won't even know who is behind this effort until after the election is over. At least if the sources of the funding were available in a timely way, voters could judge for themselves what some of the donors might have to gain by financing the anti-tax campaign.

The executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission says her office has been swamped with complaints about the anti-tax campaigns and that the commission and some legislators may consider legislation next year to require more disclosure by campaign groups.

Kansans should get behind that cause. Money has a huge impact on political campaigns, and informed voters need to know all they can about where that money is coming from. Kansans have a right -- and a responsibility -- to follow that money and see where it leads.

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