Topeka Americans for Prosperity launches an ad campaign opposing taxes. Just a grass-roots group trying to help the Kansas working class, right? Wrong.
The Republican State Leadership Committee slams Democratic attorney general candidate Paul Morrison's support of a Kansas criminal justice bill. Just a committee concerned about Kansas prison sentences, right? Wrong.
Kansans for Consumer Privacy Protection mails cards criticizing Republican Atty. Gen. Phill Kline over the increase in crime. Just an organization worried about crime, right? Wrong.
The groups taking over campaign ads in Kansas are not what they appear to be. And finding out who they are is sometimes impossible.
"In an ideal world, the voters ought to be able to know who is paying for these ads, but that is not always the case," said Brooks Jackson, director of the nonpartisan and nonprofit FactCheck.org, which monitors political ads and statements nationally as part of the Washington, D.C.-based Annenberg Public Policy Center.
Americans for Prosperity has been on the political scene in Kansas for several years.
In a new television ad, it criticizes the state of the Kansas economy and describes itself as a grass-roots organization that stopped a $1 billion tax increase.
What it doesn't say is that Americans for Prosperity was founded by billionaire David Koch, executive vice president and a board director for Koch Industries, based in Wichita. Koch was the Libertarian Party candidate for vice president of the United States in 1980 and a well-known backer of anti-tax efforts.
And the group doesn't have to reveal who has financed its efforts.
Under state law, groups must disclose where they receive and how they spend funds and whether they expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate.
Race for Attorney General
- Kline promised no sex case attacks (10-28-06)
- Records show declines in consumer savings under Kline (10-28-06)
- 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)
- Candidate selector: See whose positions you agree with
Americans for Prosperity's ads don't qualify because they don't say how people should vote.
When asked whether it would be the right thing to reveal who is bankrolling AFP, the group's Kansas leader, Alan Cobb, said in an e-mail, "Will the LJW send me your advertiser and subscribers list?"
Another group has parachuted into Kansas from Washington, D.C., to hammer Morrison in his race against Kline for attorney general.
The Republican State Leadership Committee has run television ads and produced mailings that blasted Morrison over support of state legislation that it said showed Morrison was soft on crime.
But rather than a crime-fighting group, the RSLC is one of the richest political fundraising machines in the nation, funded by a who's who list of corporations, including energy, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, insurance and banking interests. These interests are often fighting in states to limit their liabilities in consumer protection complaints.
Kline's consumer protection office returned $375,000 to consumers in 2004, a steep drop from what was collected by former Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall Steckline.
Morrison has stated the group has spent $1 million in Kansas against him. Its expenditures will be reported Monday.
Another group emerged in the attorney general's race with mailings that say that while Kline was seeking medical records from abortion clinics, crime was on the rise.
But like Americans for Prosperity, Kansans for Consumer Privacy Protection won't have to reveal its source of funds because it didn't expressly tell readers to vote for a particular candidate.
The group, however, shares the same office address as ProKanDo, a political action committee run by George Tiller, the Wichita doctor who specializes in late-term abortions.
Tiller has been a vocal critic of Kline, who has launched a secret investigation into Tiller's clinic and one operated by Planned Parenthood.
Jackson, with FactCheck.org, said voters have to beware when it comes to campaign ads.
"A lot of people have the false notion that they are sophisticated enough that these ads don't affect them," he said.
But, he said, studies from the 2004 presidential election between John Kerry and George Bush show that large numbers of voters "believed the crap fed to them by the Kerry campaign and the Bush campaign."
Carol Williams, executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, said she would like to see Kansas law changed to require the issue advocacy groups to reveal where their money is coming from.
"We want disclosure, and we are not getting it with these third-party groups," Williams said. "This truly has everything to do with the election."
The Ethics Commission next month will consider whether to recommend the Legislature approve a bill that would require financial disclosure by the issue advocacy groups.
Past attempts to do this, however, have been bottled up by political wrangling, she said.