Archive for Sunday, March 4, 2007

Time has come for reforms

Senate approves bill addressing donation reports

March 4, 2007

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— Lawmakers may actually approve campaign finance reforms this session.

"We're not doing bad at all," said Carol Williams, executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

"I think it looks positive that we could get some campaign finance legislation this year," Williams said.

Kansas generally gets low to failing marks from watchdog groups that rate states on how much information the public has access to about the financing of political campaigns.

For example, the last time candidates must file a report that shows who is financing their campaign is 11 days before the election. Donations made during the last 11 days of the contest - usually when numerous contributions are made - aren't reported until months after the election.

But a bill approved by the Senate would require one more campaign finance report that would cover donations of $300 or more up until the Friday before the election. That will add seven more days of late contributions to the reports and give the public a better sense of who is behind the candidate, Williams said.

"It is really going to tell you who is giving those last-minute donations," she said.

The measure is now being considered by House members.

Reforms have advanced before in the Legislature only to be shot down amid partisan politics.

But Williams said this year may be different because of the public anger over the increase in anonymous telephone campaign messages, so-called robocalls.

"It's on everyone's mind. A number of senators said 'this is the one issue in my district that people are concerned about,'" she said.

A bill requiring that the messages identify who the sponsor is also has been approved by the Senate.

State Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, who has long pushed for campaign reforms, said he had mixed feelings about the chance of significant changes being made this year.

"I'm still holding out hope that we will have an opportunity to roll out campaign finance again," Davis said.

Davis said he was disappointed a bill last month with several reforms long sought by the Ethics Commission was referred back to a House committee on a 60-59 vote.

That bill included measures to increase reporting of late contributions and contributions from political action committees.

But he said promises by key legislators have been made that those proposals will come out for another full House vote before the session ends.

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