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Archive for Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Kansas lawmaker faces new complaints from activist

March 14, 2012

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— A longtime Kansas Republican Party activist filed two ethics complaints Tuesday against a GOP state senator who once ran against the activist's mother, accusing the legislator of misusing campaign funds and filing a fraudulent campaign finance report.

Kris Van Meteren submitted the complaints against Sen. Dwayne Umbarger to the state Governmental Ethics Commission. Van Meteren, of Ozawkie, revived a case he pursued unsuccessfully in 2008, but his new complaints are more specific and the allegation of a false filing is new.

One complaint filed Tuesday questions $6,041 in expenditures from Umbarger's campaign fund from September 2004 through July 2009, including a $1,738 payment to a company that provided a carport for the senator. Kansas law makes it illegal for a candidate to convert campaign funds to personal use.

The other complaint from Van Meteren contends the Thayer Republican misled the commission in a July 2008 campaign filing by describing the carport as a storage building.

Umbarger, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said Van Meteren's complaints are "a waste of taxpayer money" and an obvious signal of a coming challenge in the Republican primary in August. Van Meteren is the son of Iris Van Meter, a former State Board of Education member who tried unsuccessfully to unseat Umbarger in the 2008 primary.

Van Meteren, a former executive director of the Kansas GOP, is a partner in a Kansas City-area consulting and direct mail firm that serves Republicans. He said the commission didn't seriously review the complaint he filed against Umbarger in 2008 but noted that a majority of members have changed since.

"They need to do an actual, thorough investigation," Van Meteren said.

Carol Williams, the commission's executive director, declined comment. State law requires the commission to keep cases confidential until it schedules a public hearing.

Van Meteren is a prominent GOP conservative. Umbarger has upset conservatives by voting with GOP moderates on budget, tax, and some social issues.

Umbarger reimbursed his campaign fund $4,700 in 2008 after Van Meteren filed his first complaint with the ethics commission.

"If there's somewhere where I've made an offense, well, I'll own up to it, and we'll resolve it," Umbarger said. "They've already dealt with it once."

In enforcing the law against converting campaign funds to personal use, the commission has given candidates and legislators some leeway. For example, it has allowed a candidate who doesn't own a suit to use campaign funds to buy one for campaign appearances or legislative meetings.

Van Meteren's complaint questions the spending on not only the carport, but also on auto repairs and dues to professional associations.

The first case that Van Meteren filed against Umbarger became notable for GOP conservatives because, after he dropped his complaint, the commission pursued its own against Van Meteren. It alleged he violated the confidentiality law by speaking publicly about his allegations.

The commission wanted to fine Van Meteren $7,500 but dropped the matter when the attorney general's office said such restrictions for people submitting complaints are unconstitutional. Van Meteren said he still incurred $12,700 in legal bills.

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