For the eighth straight year, the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission is expected to recommend that the Kansas Legislature approve a bill requiring political action committees to file campaign finance reports detailing exactly how much they are spending and who is providing those funds.
Had such a law been in effect last fall, we would have known who was bankrolling the Iowa-based American Future Fund, which spent about $1 million on television advertising during the November election campaign to defeat Kansas Attorney General Steve Six.
Groups like the American Future Fund bypass traditional campaign disclosure rules for individuals and PACs because they don’t expressly advocate votes for or against a candidate. Instead, they seek to influence voters through “issue ads.”
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, also has pushed for a change in the ethics law for years.
“There are just going to be more and more groups spending more and more money to influence our elections,” Davis told the Journal-World.
The least that should be required of such groups is to tell the public where the money is coming from to pay for the ads. That information could give voters an idea why the funds’ donors might seek to sway the vote. It’s an issue of transparency.
According to AFF’s website, the group opposes the health care reform signed into law by President Barack Obama. The AFF ran ads attacking Six for refusing to join the legal challenge of the law.
Six was defeated by Republican Derek Schmidt, who has since fulfilled a campaign promise by joining a lawsuit against the health reform law. AFF commercials didn’t endorse Schmidt, but a law ensuring transparency of AFF donors might have helped voters make that connection.
Voters also can play a role in combating the influence of such television ads by simply ignoring them. There is nothing objective about these ads; they are meant to influence, not inform. Voters should be forewarned that the message they receive from issue ads likely is slanted or unclear.
It’s time that Kansas have a law requiring PACs to file campaign finance reports that show how much they are spending on “issue” ads and who is bankrolling that effort. That will help to better inform the voters, rather than keeping them blindfolded.