Archive for Thursday, April 21, 2005

Ethics board to hear case against group responsible for postcard

April 21, 2005


— Fire from the Lawrence City Commission campaign continues to burn.

Supporters of David Schauner say they will ask the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission today to make a secret group called Teachers for a Better Lawrence divulge who they are and who is bankrolling them.

Teachers for a Better Lawrence was the name of the group on a postcard mailer that gave Schauner an "F" and put check marks and praiseworthy comments by the names of three other commission candidates.

Under state law, groups that provide information about candidates or issues, but don't expressly advocate for a candidate's election or defeat, are not required to report their backers and campaign finances. These are called issue-advocacy groups.

But the check marks next to candidate names on the Teachers for a Better Lawrence postcard crossed the line into outright advocacy, according to members of the Progressive Lawrence Campaign, a political action committee.

"The public should know where the support for that kind of thing came from," said Wally Emerson, chairman of Progressive Lawrence Campaign.

Officials with Progressive Lawrence Campaign will make their case today to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, which oversees state and local campaign laws.

Carol Williams, executive director of the state commission, said she didn't think the Teachers for a Better Lawrence postcard rose to the level of express advocacy.

Court decisions have ruled that express advocacy ads must contain the "magic words" such as "vote for" or "vote against."

But the decision will be up to the nine-member commission. If the commission decides that the postcard expressly advocates for the election of defeat of a candidate, then Teachers for a Better Lawrence will have to file reports that show who is behind the group, who donated to it and how much, just like a regular political action committee.

Schauner won re-election April 5 but was the target of scathing postcards that made allegations he denied.

"The whole postcard campaign was a pretty bad thing for our city elections," Emerson said. While Emerson said he deplored all the anti-Schauner postcards, it's only the Teachers for a Better Lawrence one that he believes expressly advocated for other candidates.

The controversy of allowing issue advocacy groups to avoid campaign finance reporting has been raging for months in the Legislature as various issue groups become more active in Kansas.

A proposal to make the groups report their campaign activity may be considered by lawmakers when they return for the wrap-up session April 27.

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