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Archive for Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Governor signs campaign reform legislation

New law will require ‘robo calls’ to identify who is paying for them

April 17, 2007

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— Campaign contribution violations might be harder to prove under a measure signed Monday by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, critics said.

Even the governor expressed reservations about portions of the law, which bans legislators from "knowingly" soliciting contributions from lobbyists during the legislative session.

"I am concerned : by a provision of the bill that has the potential to open a loophole that legislators and state officials could exploit to solicit money from lobbyists during the legislative session," Sebelius said in a statement.

The measure, which takes effect July 1, also bans anonymous automated phone calls urging support or defeat of a political candidate, and makes it easier for candidates to file campaign finance reports.

Under the legislation - which is among 138 bills Sebelius has signed this session - legislators, statewide officials and candidates for those offices are forbidden from knowingly soliciting contributions during the session. Current law includes a total ban, knowingly or otherwise.

The governor urged legislators to revisit the issue "to ensure accountability is maintained."

Critics of the bill are concerned that someone could claim they didn't know about a solicitation.

Sabrina Standifer, Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission chairwoman, said the legislation will make the panel's enforcement job harder.

"By adding 'knowingly' as a requirement, it's raising the standard in order to find that someone has violated this law," said Standifer, a Wichita attorney. "It is a higher standard the commission is going to have to meet, so in essence it is diluting the provisions of the law."

She said the commission now only must prove a violation occurred.

"The concern is, how does the commission prove that a violation occurred, that somebody knowingly did it?" Standifer said.

She said the commission has fined numerous candidates of violating that provision over the years.

In recent campaigns, a tactic known as "robo calls" has grown more prominent. Automated phone calls are made and there's nobody to say who is making the call. The legislation requires such calls to identify who is paying for them.

Standifer said the commission received numerous complaints about robo calls, wanting to know why callers didn't have to identify themselves. She said the timing was right this year to restrict them.

"It was still fresh on people's minds, they were still upset by it and that carried over into legislators doing something about it," she said.

The bill also allows candidates, starting next year, to file campaign finance reports electronically with the secretary of state's office. Now, the reports are submitted on paper to the ethics commission, whose staff then makes the information available on its Web site. It also increases the minimum for reporting in-kind contributions from $50 to $100.

Another bill signed by the governor allows state officials or employees to accept a free or discounted meal worth $25 or less if the person's presence serves a legitimate purpose and it has been authorized. It changes a 1997 law aimed at limiting executive branch employees from accepting free food and drinks.

In 2005, 11 Department of Education employees were fined a dollar each by the commission for accepting a free meal from hotels, even though they had been sent by supervisors to check out the food and accommodations.

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