Topeka — Top Democrats filed a complaint Friday in the Kansas House against its Republican speaker, accusing him of misconduct for representing businesses, trade groups and insurance funds in a lawsuit against the state.
The Democrats said Speaker Mike O’Neal’s involvement in the lawsuit as an attorney creates conflicts of interest for the Hutchinson Republican as a legislator. His clients in the case include the Kansas Bankers Association, the Kansas Realtors Association and a Wichita company doing business as Speedy Cash.
O’Neal called the complaint “bizarre” and said Democrats have not shown any instance in which he influenced legislation on behalf of one of his clients in the lawsuit.
“There’s just nothing substantive here,” O’Neal told reporters during a news conference.
Six House Democrats, led by Minority Leader Paul Davis, of Lawrence, submitted the complaint to the House’s chief clerk. The chamber’s rules will force the appointment of a committee of three Republicans and three Democrats to review it.
Under those rules, the appointments will be made by Speaker Pro Tem Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican, who plans to announce them Monday. The House last appointed a committee to investigate a member’s conduct in 1951.
Such a complaint can lead the House to censure or expel a member, but Davis said the Democrats will drop their complaint if O’Neal removes himself from the lawsuit.
“The action that I’m hoping will occur is that the speaker will come to his senses and understand that he shouldn’t be involved in this lawsuit,” Davis said.
The speaker has declined to remove himself or his firm from the lawsuit, saying he’s representing clients, just as other legislator-lawyers, including Davis, do routinely.
O’Neal is not likely to face any sanctions if Republicans stick with him. A vote to censure or expel a member requires a two-thirds majority; the GOP holds a 76-49 majority.
Davis said many House Republicans are upset with O’Neal over the lawsuit against the state but are afraid to say so publicly, fearing retaliation. Some Republicans declined to discuss O’Neal’s case with reporters.
O’Neal dismissed talk that he’s all-powerful in the House, noting that he and past GOP speakers have, for example, deferred to minority leaders on committee assignments for Democrats.
He said he has heard from Democrats upset with Davis and his leadership team.
O’Neal filed the lawsuit against the state in January in Shawnee County District Court on behalf of 17 clients, most of them industry workers’ compensation funds.
The lawsuit attacks a financial move last year — opposed by O’Neal — that helped balance the state budget. The Legislature confiscated unused funds in various accounts set aside for specific regulatory purposes and diverted them to general government programs.
O’Neal’s clients paid fees deposited into some of those special accounts. The lawsuit argues the state imposed an unauthorized tax on his clients and exceeded its regulatory powers.
The speaker said Democrats are trying to create a political distraction to avoid questions about how they would solve the state’s budget problems.