Some conservative legislators are calling for reforms in the selection of members to the state’s ethics panel.
The lawmakers’ concerns stem from the recent appointment of Democrat Paul Morrison’s campaign manager for the 2006 attorney general race.
But Mark Simpson, a Lawrence resident and a Douglas County assistant district attorney, said his experience with elections — instead of his political leanings — was the reason he won the appointment to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, which enforces campaign finance laws.
“It’s nothing more than that, and politics is not a consideration and definitely shouldn’t be,” said Simpson, a Kansas University law school graduate.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, appointed Simpson in April. Simpson is also a former Kansas Democratic Party executive director.
His ties to Morrison, who ran as a pro-abortion-rights Democrat against Republican Phill Kline, have upset conservatives and anti-abortion groups. They question whether he can serve as an impartial commissioner.
“I think we need an entire restructuring of the ethics commission,” said Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler.
Morrison resigned in 2008 amid a sex scandal, but Davis said Simpson has never been accused of any impropriety. Simpson finished law school after he ran Morrison’s campaign and has worked as a prosecutor for a year.
“I have no idea what Mark Simpson’s views are on the issue of abortion, and they are of no relevance to the (ethics commission),” Davis said. “I wanted somebody who had some experience with the issues that come before the commission and somebody who I knew would be fair and impartial.”
State law does place some political restrictions on ethics panel members, but none apply to Simpson. The governor gets two appointments to the nine-member commission, and the rest come from the attorney general, secretary of state, chief justice, Senate president, House speaker and each chamber’s minority leader.
Abortion opponents and other critics have long questioned whether the state ethics commission is more eager to investigate conservatives than others.
“It’s long past time someone took a close look at this agency and demanded some transparency and questioned some of the decisions,” said Mary Kay Culp, executive director for Kansans for Life.
- The Associated Press contributed to this report.