Last year at this time, voters’ mailboxes, televisions and radios were slammed with political campaign ads as the November election neared.
On Saturday, state officials said this might be the year to ensure that voters have more information about who is backing some of those ads.
The Lawrence chapter of League of Women Voters was host to a forum at the Dole Institute of Politics that focused on a loophole in the state’s campaign finance act that allows special interest groups to run “issue ads” without reporting who is paying for them.
While these ads are careful not to say to vote for one candidate or another, they do tout the politician’s voting records and virtues. Or they can shed a negative light on an opponent.
“If it doesn’t have the magic words … then they don’t have to say who they are,” House minority leader Paul Davis said as he held up an example of an issue ad. “The problem I have: these folks are spending a lot of money and we don’t know who funds them.”
And the supporters behind those ads — who aren’t being named — are having a real influence on who is being elected and how politics is done in the state of Kansas, said Rep. Pat Colloton, a Leawood Republican. The problem is exacerbated in rural areas where $5,000 or $10,000 can swing an election.
“I do think when (candidates) sign on to some of these groups, they don’t realize the fullness of the commitment that they are making,” Colloton said. “These different groups who have spent money to influence elections have several pieces of legislation coming through.”
Since 2005, there has been a proposal to close the loophole in the state’s campaign finance laws. The proposal would require filing a campaign finance report for anyone who spends more than $500 on a mailing or ad that clearly identifies a candidate and is issued 30 days before the primaries or 60 days before the general election.
Reform hasn’t happened, Davis and Colloton said, because of those in the legislature who are being bolstered by special interest groups through issue ads.
But Davis said the proposal might see some movement in the House soon.
“We could see an up or down vote this year,” he said.