Topeka A bill to require disclosure of who funds “issue ads” was blasted on Wednesday by some of the most active and powerful political forces in the state.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity-Kansas and National Rifle Association called the proposed legislation an attack on free speech.
“This bill is a blatant violation of the personal privacy rights of all members of our organization and the citizens of the United States of America,” said Jordan Austin, a lobbyist for the NRA.
But supporters of the bill told the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee that the legislation is designed to let Kansas voters know who is behind anonymously funded ads that blanket the state around election time and try to influence the election's outcome.
Carol Jacobson, of Lawrence, who is co-chair for voter services for the League of Women Voters, said the measure would give voters “accurate, reliable information” so that they can judge the validity of the ads and the motivation behind them.
Under current law, independent advocacy groups that are set up as tax-exempt organizations are not required to disclose their donors because they don't advocate expressly for or against a candidate. But these groups have flooded campaigns with ads that are critical of candidates.
Under Senate Bill 31, these groups would be required to file campaign finance reports that include names of contributors who donate more than $1,000.
Sen. Jean Kurtis Schodorf, R-Wichita, said she was the target of “unsettling” ads from an out of state group during her race last summer in the Republican Party primary for the 4th U.S. House district.
She said an Ohio group called Common Sense Issues ran ads critical of her that asked, “What happens when you bag a RINO? They go squish, squish, squish.” A RINO is a term sometimes used by conservative groups that stands for “Republican In Name Only.”
But the NRA, Kansas Chamber and AFP said there is a long tradition of protection of anonymous speech.
Austin, with the NRA, said public disclosure of his organization's donor list would endanger public safety.
“First, 99 percent of our members own firearms, so since the bill requires the disclosure of not only names, addresses but occupations, then criminals will know the addresses of homes where firearms are located and whether or not that person has a job, so they'll know if the residence will be empty during the day,” he said in written testimony to the committee. “It will essentially be a criminal shopping list,” he said.