Topeka A legislator who’s asking Kansas voters to make him the state’s top elections official has been accused of improperly using campaign funds and illegally soliciting contributions from lobbyists.
State Sen. Chris Steineger, a Kansas City Democrat running for secretary of state, could be fined up to $15,000 if the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission concludes he violated state campaign finance laws. The commission sent him a notice Thursday, setting a May 18 hearing in his case.
In response, Steineger spokeswoman Allison Green said he “wants to allow the ethics commission to complete its entire review process.”
“When the commission makes its determinations, the senator will comply fully with the commission’s decisions,” she said.
Steineger is challenging Secretary of State Chris Biggs in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary. Three Republicans also are seeking the office.
The allegation that Steineger misused campaign funds stems partly from actions he took last year while deciding whether to run for statewide office.
Carol Williams, the ethics commission’s executive director, filed a notice saying Steineger used his Senate campaign fund in March and November 2009 to pay for polling to see how well voters statewide would recognize his name in a run for governor or secretary of state.
Kansas law doesn’t allow money collected for a legislative campaign to be used to run for another office or personal expenses.
Williams’ allegations became public in the notice the commission sent Steineger. She declined to elaborate, saying more details will come at the May hearing.
A report filed earlier this year by Steineger’s Senate campaign showed that it paid the M.J. Ross Group Inc., of Portland, Ore., $1,888 in March 2009 and again in November 2009. Both times, the purpose of the spending was listed as “consulting.”
On its website, the group promotes “Automated phone services for Democratic candidates and causes” and “political telemarketing services.” Steineger had previously acknowledged paying for a robocall survey in November but said he used personal funds.
Williams also accused Steineger of violating a law prohibiting legislators and legislative candidates from soliciting contributions from lobbyists while lawmakers are in session. The commission’s notice said only that Steineger sent an e-mail requesting contributions in February to “some lobbyists.”
Green said Steineger reported the problem to the commission himself.
Such violations have occurred in the past when candidates for statewide office used batch e-mails to solicit contributions. In April 2006, the ethics commission fined then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, $1,500 when an e-mail to 92,000 potential donors reached 16 registered lobbyists.