Topeka The state ethics commission says that legislators can dip into their campaign funds to pay for water coolers in their offices.
The opinion by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission followed a cost-cutting move approved by the Legislature and an initiative by Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard.
During the last legislative session, legislators eliminated using tax dollars to pay for water coolers in their offices. That cut the availability of drinking water in the six-floor building to two first-floor water fountains.
But during an interim committee meeting this summer, Kelsey found himself on the fifth floor. “I was thirsty as all get out,” he said, when he realized he would have to go to the first floor to get a drink of water.
Kelsey said he imagined constituents visiting his office during the next session and being unable to offer them water.
He didn’t like that, so he figured out how much it would cost for each legislator to get water and a cooler in his or her office. It came out to $65 per legislator.
He then sent letters to all 165 legislators asking them to pay $65. He said he would have someone handle all the paperwork and get the Department of Legislative Administrative Services to audit the account.
He also sought an opinion from the Ethics Commission on whether legislators could use their campaign funds to provide drinking water in their Capitol offices.
Under state law, no political contributions can be used for the personal use of a candidate. Political donations, however, can be used for the expenses of holding public office.
“A reasonable and customary practice for any professional place of work, including legislative offices, is to have drinking water available for visiting persons, as well as for staff who work there,” stated the commission’s opinion, which was written last week. “Thus, a legitimate expense of holding the political office of legislator would be the purchase of drinking water for the availability of visitors and staff.”
Kelsey said on Monday that many of his colleagues have already sent checks for the water and thank-you notes.
“We are going to replace the water exactly as we had it before,” he said. “I wanted to fix a problem.”
He also criticized the $285 million Capitol renovation project, saying that once it is finished it won’t provide enough public drinking fountains.
Officials said when the renovation is completed there will be six fountains: two on the first floor and four in a ground floor visitor center.