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Archive for Thursday, October 18, 2007

State gets ‘D’ in campaign finance disclosure

October 18, 2007

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— In Kansas, voters are in many ways kept in the dark about who finances candidates during elections.

That's one of the reasons Kansas earned a "D" on a report card that was released Wednesday.

The D represents an improvement from three straight years of failing grades from the Campaign Disclosure Project, but still puts Kansas in the bottom third of states at No. 36.

The finance disclosure project is a collaboration of the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies and the UCLA School of Law, and is supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Project sponsors say voters need to have more information about who was funding politicians' campaigns.

"Access to campaign finance data enables voters to make informed election choices and hold politicians accountable," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "This study helps the public determine how their state's disclosure programs compare with others, and provides resources and incentives to help states improve."

One of Kansas' major problems, according to the project, is its law that essentially hides who is contributing to campaigns for the 11-day period before an election. Those contributions and campaigns' expenditures are reported months later.

Numerous times, special interest groups have flooded candidates' campaign accounts during that blackout period.

The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has proposed more timely reporting of campaign contributions but the proposal has yet to be enacted.

Even so, Kansas raised its previous grade - an F - to a D, mostly through improving its online access to campaign finance data, the report said.

But the state's online site for campaign finance reports, www.accesskansas.org/ethics, still has problems. Some of its file sizes are so large they take more than an hour to download, the report said.

State Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, who has been involved with campaign finance reform, said Kansas made progress this year when the Legislature approved a bill that requires automated phone calls - called robo calls - to identify who is paying for them.

But, he said, the state needs to require the disclosure of campaign funds from issue advocacy organizations. These groups often promote certain candidates but don't specifically ask voters to vote a certain way and don't have to reveal their expenditures and contributions.

"We don't know who is contributing to these organizations, and that is the most significant thing that we need to tackle," Davis said.

"Not only is this bad public policy, it's something that the public is disgusted with and really wants to see some action from the Legislature," he said.

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