Topeka — Restitution and savings to Kansas consumers who have complained of being fleeced have declined under Atty. Gen. Phill Kline, according to state records.
For 2005, Kline's consumer protection division reported consumer savings of $921,533. In 2004, the total was nearly $375,000.
Those totals are less than the last two years of Kline's predecessor, former Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall Steckline.
In 2002, Steckline's office saved consumers nearly $2.9 million, and in 2001 the figure was nearly $9.3 million, according to state reports.
The dropping totals under Kline have become an issue in this year's attorney general's race where Kline, a Republican, faces Democrat Paul Morrison, Johnson County district attorney.
Last week, Steckline, also a Republican, crossed party lines to endorse Morrison. One of her main reasons, she said, was Kline's performance in consumer protection.
"He (Kline) has been such a disappointment in not addressing the needs of consumers," Steckline said.
Morrison has attacked Kline for hiring Bryan Brown to head the consumer protection division. Brown was arrested 12 times for anti-abortion protests from 1989 to 1992.
Noting the drop-off in consumer savings under Kline, Morrison said, "How do you get that far down? By having bad judgment, wrong priorities and hiring somebody with a lengthy criminal record who is not much of a lawyer to head that unit."
Kline has defended Brown's legal abilities and compared Brown's anti-abortion protests to the civil disobedience conducted by civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
Sherriene Jones, a spokeswoman for Kline's campaign, said Kline has changed the operations of consumer protection division.
"Our focus is going after those who scam and fraud Kansas consumers, not businesses that make honest mistakes," Jones said.
She said Steckline wasted taxpayer funds on sometimes trifling consumer disputes. Her comments, though, differ from what Kline had said about Steckline in the past.
In writing the consumer report that covered Steckline's last year in office, Kline said, "General Stovall is to be commended, as is her staff, for accomplishing goals which she set for her division."
But Kline opposed Steckline on several major legal issues.
As a legislator, Kline had opposed the state getting involved in the lawsuit against tobacco companies, which resulted in a $206 billion settlement with 46 states, including $1.6 billion for Kansas. And in the late 1990s, he disagreed with Steckline's decision to join a group of other states that sued Microsoft, alleging the company had engaged in illegal monopoly practices.
Race for Attorney General
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- Wichita Eagle video showing Kline's refusal to use a sex case against his opponent
- Kelly Summerlin statement on her allegations against Paul Morrison (.doc)
- Morrison's accuser says she received no money (10-26-06)
- Questions and answers from Kline following Tuesday's AG debate (10-25-06)
- New Kline ad called a 'jaw dropper' (10-24-06)
- Full coverage of the Attorney General race
- Transcript of chat with Attorney General Phill Kline (10-09-06)
- Candidate: Phill Kline (Republican)
- Candidate: Paul Morrison (Democrat)
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Kline also has benefited from an ad campaign from the Republican State Leadership Committee, which is funded by corporate interests.
But Kline has said he has been at the forefront of consumer issues.
"We won the Health Midwest case resulting in $110 million to consumers," Kline said. "That dwarfs my predecessor's record with consumer protection."
Kline was referring to the 2003 hospital sale of the nonprofit Health Midwest, which had hospitals in Missouri and Kansas, to the for-profit HCA Inc.
Under the sale, nonprofit foundations were created in Missouri and Kansas. Morrison has said the bulk of the work on the deal was done during the Steckline administration.
On Friday, Brown produced the 2005 consumer report for the media.
"The 'drop' in consumer filings and restitution numbers under the Kline Administration should be viewed as a mid-course correction for the division," the report said. "As such the 'slow down' in the transfer of wealth from law-abiding businesses to complaining consumers constitutes statistical proof that the reforms of 2003 have remedied state action often accused of overreaching due to a seeming anti-business bias."