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Archive for Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Outside money fuels debate

March 30, 2005

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There is an old cliche that history repeats itself. Or, as Yogi Berra once said, it seems like deja vu all over again. Well, I've begun to feel the same way recently. In the 1850s, Kansas Territory became a battleground for the national fight over slavery. Both sides flooded Kansas with money and people to ensure that their side would ultimately prevail. The end result was certainly the right one: Kansas became a free state. But during the years in which the two sides struggled here there was great turmoil and loss of life and property.

Once again, it seems Kansas is to be the battleground for a series of national battles over policy and philosophy, and once again, money and people are pouring into Kansas to assure that their side wins.

I have been struck in recent months by the influx of substantial amounts of money to fund campaigns on policy issues. This is not completely new. In the past, outside money has flooded into Kansas for election campaigns. Given the very close contests for control of the U.S. House and Senate in recent years, the national political parties have had very good reasons for wanting to support their candidates' campaigns.

But recently, money has been coming into Kansas campaigns that have no direct bearing on national politics. Two, in particular, have recently brought in a good deal of funding on both sides: the proposed amendment against gay marriage and the proposed "taxpayers' bill of rights."

In both of these cases, what is involved are proposed amendments to the Kansas Constitution. Neither amendment, if passed or defeated, would have any impact on any resident of any other state nor would the laws of any jurisdiction outside of Kansas be affected. Instead, these two proposed amendments would have an impact solely on Kansas law and Kansas residents. And, for me, therein lies the problem.

I believe that amendments to the state constitution are very serious things. They have far longer-lasting impact than normal legislation. I also believe that such serious matters should be decided by the people of Kansas and that such decisions should be made without undue influence from individuals and groups who have no stake in the outcome of the decisions.

In the case of the gay marriage amendment, groups from around the United States have been putting money into the media campaigns leading up to the April 5 vote. I have little doubt that such funding will have an impact on the vote; that's why campaigns cost so much. They are generally effective.

Will this decision become a contest not of competing philosophies in Kansas but of which outside groups can funnel enough money into Kansas? What stake do these groups have in the outcome? I suspect that what is wanted on both sides is to be able to use Kansas as a "poster child' for other state contests. I don't like that very much.

Much the same thing, on a smaller scale, is happening in regard to TABOR. This proposed amendment is the creation of a Coloradoan whose energy and wealth has gone into a program of evangelizing in other states. Now, he and others are turning their attention, and funding, to Kansas. Are they planning to change residence and settle here in Kansas? If not, why are they funding this campaign in our state?

The problem with the funding of these "issue votes" is that campaign finance laws do not regulate them in the same way that electoral campaigns are regulated. To my mind, this is a serious gap in our campaign finance laws. Whatever is decided on April 5 or in future votes on policy issues should reflect the considered votes of Kansans, free from outside influence. I would hope that our Legislature would consider the very real dangers of outside campaign funding and find ways, if not to stop it, to at least regulate it better.

-- Mike Hoeflich, a professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the

Journal-World.

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