Those responsible for a controversial campaign postcard mailed four days before the April 5 city elections will be obliged to reveal themselves and how much money they raised and spent in their failed effort to deny City Commissioner David Schauner another term.
Members of the so-called Teachers for a Better Lawrence now must reveal who they are and where they got their money.
The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, a nine-member panel, ruled unanimously Thursday that the postcard claiming Schauner was "failing" the city's youths fell under the guidelines of express candidate advocacy, rather than issue advocacy.
Kansas law has stricter disclosure requirements for candidate advocacy, whereas issue advocacy is all but unregulated.
Ethics commissioners concluded the postcard advocated for and against specific City Commission candidates because it listed their names and included check marks endorsing Mike Amyx, Sue Hack and Tom Bracciano. But the postcard slammed Schauner.
"The check marks by the candidate's names, to me, crosses the line," said Ethics Commissioner John Solbach, a Lawrence attorney and former state legislator.
Solbach said the mailing, which came right before the April 5 general election, also helped make the card fall under purview of state election law.
"Four days before the election to me says something," Solbach said.
Kansas law defines express candidate advocacy as ads or literature that include phrases such as "vote for" and "re-elect."
But members of the Progressive Lawrence Campaign, which sought the ethics commission's ruling, successfully argued that the check boxes on the postcard were a pictorial representation of the words "vote for."
Ethics Commission Chairman Dan Sevart agreed.
"If you had, for example, a no-parking sign with a no and my face on it, and I was a candidate, wouldn't that clearly convey that I should be defeated?" Sevart said. "It's the same thing."
If an advertisement is deemed to be candidate advocacy, the group or individual distributing the ad must register with election officials and file paperwork showing funding sources and a record of expenditures.
Thursday's decision means Teachers for a Better Lawrence will receive a letter from the ethics commission requesting the disclosures.
"Usually we give them 10 days to register and get a report in," Sevart said. "If there was a reason to audit that report then we have staff people who would look into it further, and if we find a problem usually we give people an opportunity to correct the problem."
Earlier this month, Mike Capra, a local plumber known as "vitos plumbing" on Lawrence Internet forums, admitted to the Journal-World that he was involved in distributing the postcard.
But when contacted by the Journal-World, Capra refused to comment on the ethics commission's decision.
"I'm not answering another question from another reporter ever," Capra said.
Members of the Progressive Lawrence Campaign said they were pleased with the outcome.
"We're glad the commission came to that decision, which we certainly agree with," said Wally Emerson, Progressive Lawrence Campaign Chairman. "But we do want to point out that it's a very specific type of communication that they looked at and that there is still a lot of work to be done for how we should disclose who's trying to influence our elections in Kansas."
Schauner said he also was pleased by the decision but was concerned that a Kansas Senate bill aimed at strengthening campaign disclosure laws had stalled in the Legislature.
"Until we get moderates and conservatives and liberals together on the issue of transparency and better rules we're going to continue to have these battles over this postcard or an ad here or there," Schauner said.
Douglas County Commission Chairman Charles Jones attended the ethics commission meeting and expressed his concern about anonymous and unreported campaigning.
"I think what's at risk here is the health of the democratic process," he said.