Archive for Friday, January 20, 2006

Use of state resources to prepare campaign document causes stir

January 20, 2006

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— Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and a fellow Democratic leader on Thursday questioned Republican Sen. Jim Barnett's use of the Legislature's research staff to prepare a document for his gubernatorial campaign.

Barnett, of Emporia, and his running mate, Sen. Susan Wagle, of Wichita, relied on the spreadsheet to show that their proposals to cut taxes and increase spending on education wouldn't cause future budget problems.

The document became public when the Legislative Research Department released it at Wagle's request. The one-page spreadsheet notes it was "Prepared at the Request and Direction of Senator Jim Barnett."

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he took issue with Barnett using state resources to produce a campaign proposal.

"I think it's inappropriate," Hensley, D-Topeka, said during an interview.

Sebelius said she won't have state employees preparing campaign-related documents. If Barnett wins the GOP nomination in August, he'll face Sebelius in the November general election.

"I believe strongly in following the law of a separation between campaign and office," Sebelius said. "I hope we all can maintain the law."

Barnett said the research department prepared the document after he had it examine his proposals to make sure they wouldn't create a budget crisis. It would have been irresponsible to float a plan without checking with budget experts, he said.

Responding to the criticism, Barnett said, "Today is about my vision for Kansas. All the governor can do is send out people to attack me."

State law prohibits most state employees from using their time or state resources for campaigns.

However, elected officials have some leeway. They are allowed to designate such staffers as secretaries, schedulers, assistants and spokesmen to handle both official and campaign-related duties, provided the elected official notifies the Governmental Ethics Commission.

Carol Williams, the commission's executive director, said officials who rely on state-paid researchers to help draft campaign-related documents also could argue they'd use the information in their official duties, such as developing legislative proposals or gathering information about an issue.

When asked at a Statehouse news conference about using legislative researchers to prepare a campaign document, Barnett said, "This is Jim Barnett, the senator, speaking just as much as Jim Barnett, anyone else."

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, dismissed the controversy as "smoke and noise."

"I think that Senator Barnett should stop using Legislative Research to do his policy work just as soon as the governor stops taking political credit for the policy debates we've had over the last four years," Schmidt said.

Democrats also criticized Barnett because as chairman of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, he hadn't called a meeting in the session's first 11 days.

"When you talk about leadership, why don't you fulfill your legislative responsibilities first, instead of running around the state, running for governor?" Hensley said.

Barnett said he hadn't scheduled a meeting because no bills have been assigned this year and because he's had few requests to sponsor legislation.

"This is clearly politics on the part of the governor," Barnett said.

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