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Archive for Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Lobbying group’s spending detailed

September 6, 2006

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— One attorney representing a group that successfully sued the state over education funding billed the group $475 for reading a state board of education member's autobiography.

Another charged the group $180 for a subscription to a Kansas political newsletter and $13 for a parking ticket he received in Topeka.

A third charged Schools for Fair Funding $20 three years in a row for candy he donated to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' annual Easter egg hunt, and another $20 for a charity shrimp peel.

Those charges are listed among 2,700 heavily redacted documents provided to The Topeka Capital-Journal. They provide a glimpse at expenditures by Schools for Fair Funding, a group of 19 public school districts that paid $3.2 million for litigation in state and federal court from 1997 to 2005.

The group, which challenged the constitutionality of the state's system of funding K-12 education, won a landmark Kansas Supreme Court ruling that forced the Legislature to add hundreds of millions of dollars to school spending.

"In general, expenses related to the mission for Schools for Fair Funding, which included a lobbying effort and included expenses related to litigation, are appropriate," said Wichita attorney Alan Rupe.

Rupe billed the group $190 an hour to read highlights of Connie Morris' 2002 autobiography, "From the Darkness: One Woman's Rise to Nobility," before questioning her at a deposition tied to the litigation.

"The schools should have insisted he rely on the Cliff's Notes version," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence.

Another lawyer in Rupe's firm, Richard Olmstead, charged the school districts $1,145 for appearing in July 2005 as a guest lecturer at Wichita State University.

The group also paid for golf outings with legislators, retirement reception expenses for lawmakers and dozens of meals with representatives and senators.

Rupe called the lawsuit the "largest, most important" case with which he had ever been involved, and said he "wouldn't give away my time."

Schmidt said the details of expenses billed to Schools for Fair Funding might make good "coffee-shop talk," but that discussion misses the point that the schools used taxpayer money to sue the state.

"This is about taxpayers financing litigation against themselves," Schmidt said. "I just strongly doubt that most taxpayers think that's a good idea."

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