Donor rolls often hold clues on regent picks

Board members usually have supported governor who names them, but job not considered 'reward'

In the next few weeks, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius will appoint three new members to the Kansas Board of Regents.

She hasn’t tipped her hand as to who her appointments will be. But if past trends continue, the new regents can be found on Sebelius’ list of campaign contributors.

In fact, 17 of the 19 people appointed to the Board of Regents in the past decade contributed money to the governor who appointed them.

Despite those ties, regents and officials with governors’ staffs insist politics plays little role in the workings of the group that governs the six state universities and coordinates activities of Washburn University in Topeka, 19 community colleges and 11 technical schools and colleges.

“I don’t know if there have been examples of political paybacks,” said Bill Docking, who recently stepped down from the board after 10 years. “Everyone is aware of the political affiliation – or in some cases the lack thereof – but it does not and has not played a role in decisions the board makes.”

In some cases, the donations were small. Former Regent Fred Kerr of Pratt donated $50 to the campaign of Gov. Bill Graves, who appointed him.

Regents donations

Seventeen of the 19 members of the Kansas Board of Regents appointed in the past decade donated money to the governor who appointed or reappointed them, according to campaign finance records.

Below are names of regents and former regents, their appointment dates and the governors they contributed to. In some cases, contributions to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius include donations to her campaigns for insurance commissioner.

Appointments made in 2002 and before were by Graves. Appointments made in 2003 were by Sebelius.

Current members:

Dick Bond (2002)

$582 to Graves

Janice DeBauge (1999)

$600 to Gov. Bill Graves

$1,850 to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius

Husband, Paul, donated $600 to Sebelius (note: would be up for reappointment by Sebelius in 2007, if Sebelius wins re-election)

Frank Gaines (2003)

$5,750 to Sebelius

$500 to Sebelius with wife, Beverly

Wife, Beverly, also donated $4,000 to Sebelius

Nelson Galle (2003)

$500 to Sebelius

Wife, Marilyn, donated $1,000 to Sebelius

Jim Grier (2002)

$1,500 to Graves

Donna Shank (2002)

Co-owner of insurance company that donated $617 to Graves

Also donated $750 to Graves with her husband, Al

$1,000 to Sebelius (note: is up for reappointment by Sebelius in 2006)

In other cases, the amounts were larger. Harry Craig, of Topeka, who served on the board in the late 1990s, donated $6,000 to Graves.

One of the larger donors was current Regent Frank Gaines, of Hamilton, a former legislator who was appointed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2003. He and his wife, Beverly, have donated $10,250 to Sebelius through the years, both for her campaigns for insurance commissioner and campaign for governor.

Confidence a must

Gaines said it only made sense that governors appointed their supporters and others they know. He said he first got to know Sebelius while the two served on the Legislature together.

“I think if you know the governor, and the governor has confidence in you through years of experience, that makes a world of difference,” Gaines said. “Is that politics? I’m not sure that’s politics. They’ve got to be very, very comfortable with you when you’re appointed. I don’t think that governors want to appoint somebody that will make them look like a fool.”

Another recent appointment with extensive political experience was Dick Bond, who couldn’t be reached for comment last week. Bond, of Overland Park, was a former state Senate president who also donated $582 to Graves’ campaigns.

The two regents who did not contribute to the governor who appointed them were Lew Ferguson of Topeka and Sylvia Robinson of Kansas City.

Members of Graves’ and Sebelius’ staffs insist campaign contributions are not a factor in making regents appointments.

“The governor appoints a lot of people to a variety of positions each year, and whether or not they have been a contributor at any level is not a factor in decision-making,” said Nicole Corcoran, a Sebelius spokeswoman. “Just because someone has participated in the political process in the past shouldn’t deny them from being considered – particularly if they bring leadership, passion and expertise to an issue like higher education.”

Job not a ‘reward’

Judy Krueger, former appointments secretary for Graves, noted that being appointed a regent, in itself, is hardly a reward. The job doesn’t pay, and it requires extensive time in meetings and travel across the state.

“There was never any discussion of political payback,” said Krueger, who lives in Lawrence. “The regents job is huge. It’s a lot of work. There is no pay, and it requires a lot of time away from whatever puts bread on their table.”

She also said it was sometimes difficult to find qualified candidates who meet statutory requirements for the Board of Regents. State law requires there to be at least one member from each congressional district, with no more than one from any one county and no more than five from any one political party.

Until July 1, there were four Republicans, three Democrats and two members unaffiliated with parties. The three regents stepping down were Docking, a Democrat, and Ferguson and Deryl Wynn of Kansas City, who are unaffiliated.

Reggie Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the Board of Regents, said he hasn’t seen any conversation among board members that involved political affiliations since he was hired in fall 2002.

“When I first started, from the discussions and the way they approached issues and interacted with each other, I could not discern political labels,” Robinson said. “They either shed that political perspective when they walk in that door, or governors have done a terrific job picking people who are focusing on the issues without political posturing.”