Campaign finance reform stalls

? Campaign finance reforms appear dead for the year.

The package was the victim of a battle about whether issue advocacy groups — like the kind that sent out postcards during the recent Lawrence City Commission election — should be required to report their finances. The debate took place Wednesday as the Legislature began its wrap-up session.

State Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin, said that without that provision, “the Legislature is sticking its head in the sand.”

He urged the House to send the bill back to a House-Senate conference committee to include the provision, citing the Lawrence controversy in which candidate David Schauner was the target of scathing postcards by groups that have yet to identify their backers.

But after the House voted 66-58 to send the reform package back to conference committee, State Rep. Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg, the committee chairman, said the whole package might be dead for the year.

Vickrey said neither the House nor Senate had approved the provision requiring issue advocacy groups to report campaign finances nor held hearings on it.

“I really feel outside my comfort zone putting in a conference committee report a subject that we haven’t even had hearings on,” he said.

Under current 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.

Such groups became more active in recent Kansas elections, including the August primary, November general election and the April 5 Lawrence City Commission election.

Critics say the groups are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to affect the outcome of elections and should report their contributors like any other political action committee.

But a bill to do that has been bottled up in the Legislature.

Meanwhile, legislators have agreed on other campaign finance reforms, including a requirement that recorded campaign telephone messages must include information on what group is behind the message, and a requirement that late campaign donations be publicly disclosed.

“I hate to lose all the benefits of the bill because it doesn’t have all the components that some people want,” Vickrey said.

But Holland said it was OK with him if the whole package crashed because of the lack of an issue advocacy requirement.

“The salient issue of the elections has been issue advocacy,” he said.