Some new language in contracts between service providers and the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services is raising questions that need to be addressed — sooner rather than later.
SRS officials say the new language is intended to tighten existing restrictions against contractors using state or federal funds in lobbying efforts. However, a number of agencies that contract with SRS to provide various services are so concerned about how the policy is stated that they say they will not sign the contracts until the matter is resolved.
In their minds, the contract goes far beyond the usual restrictions on lobbying. The language is so vague and inclusive, they say, that it raises many questions about activities in which agencies routinely engage. The new contracts state, “No funds allowed under this agreement may be expended by the recipient of the grant to pay directly or indirectly, any person for influencing or attempting to influence an officer or employee of any agency, a member or employee of a member of the United States Congress or the Kansas Legislature.”
Contractors already are barred from spending government dollars to lobby for or against a specific bill or policy, but the new language seems more far-reaching and has organizations asking questions. Does paying dues to an association that is active in the legislative process constitute “indirect” attempts to influence legislation? Are agency employees barred from legislative involvement if all or part of their salaries are paid with state money — even if their lobbying efforts are paid for with private dollars? According to some national nonprofit officials, the language is so vague and overly broad that it is unlikely to stand up in court because it infringes on providers’ constitutional rights.
The agencies that contract with SRS provide a host of important services to some of the state’s most vulnerable residents. Although SRS hasn’t had a good record recently of listening and responding to the concerns of agencies with which it works, state officials need to revisit this policy and make sure that any restrictions it places on lobbying and education efforts are both constitutional and not overly burdensome to the contractors on which the state depends.