Archive for Sunday, January 13, 2013

Editorial: Ethics issue

Altering the duties of the Kansas Ethics Commission seems like it should be a low priority for lawmakers.

January 13, 2013

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If it ain’t broke, let’s not fix it. Especially with other matters that, just possibly, might be more pressing.

The chairmen of the Kansas House and Senate election committees both have expressed interest in scrutinizing the Kansas Ethics Commission, which is charged with enforcing campaign finance laws in the state. Scott Schwab, who heads the House Elections Committee, said his committee will debate taking away the commission’s enforcement duties and imposing term limits on its members. One proposal is to have county prosecutors and the attorney general’s office pursue the cases of elected officials who violate ethics and campaign finance laws.

Schwab’s interest in the ethics commission appears to have it roots in complaints from fellow Republican legislators who believe the commission is more aggressive in investigating and fining conservative candidates than in pursuing complaints against moderates and liberals. Although the commission has fined and been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats, according to Schwab, the perception of unfairness “taints everything” the commission does.

It’s often said that perception is the same as reality, but changing the way a body like the Ethics Commission does business probably should be based on verifiable fact rather than on a perception that it is being unfair.

The fact is that Schwab and other Kansas conservatives will have ample opportunity to alter both the perception and the reality of the ethics commission through appointments to that body. The governor appoints two members of the commission, and the Senate president and House speaker each appoint one. All are conservative Republicans. The secretary of state, the attorney general and the chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court each have one appointment, as do the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.

Assuming those doing the appointing are true to their conservative or liberal leanings, it seems likely the nine-member commission would have a solid majority of conservative members.

As the commission’s executive director, Carol Williams, pointed out, it’s easy enough for leaders to replace members they think aren’t doing a satisfactory job. Ideally, the people of Kansas probably would prefer for the commission to be as nonpartisan and autonomous as possible, rather than shifting in the political winds. Williams also is concerned that enforcing campaign finance laws would be a low priority for the attorney general or county prosecutors with large caseloads — and perhaps some political biases of their own.

It’s unfortunate that political agendas seem to be driving many issues that lawmakers have been promising to bring to the Legislature this year. In the big scheme of things, it seems that lawmakers have more important issues to debate than the emasculation of the Kansas Ethics Commission.

Comments

tomatogrower 2 years, 5 months ago

Let's go back to math class, Kansas Republicans. There's a boatload more Republicans than Democrats in Kansas; therefore there will probably more ethics complaints against Republicans. Just like if there is a higher population of gang members in a neighborhood, there will be more gang related crimes. If you live in a college town there will be more people under the age of 21 without parental control, so there will be more underaged drinking. Duh!!!! I hate that word, but it fits here.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 5 months ago

I would say investigate all members annually without an official complaint. But turn the entire investigative process over to the FBI and the KBI. The investigative process begins in June of each year until each candidate has been investigated.

If violations are discovered each elected person found guilty MUST resign immediately and special elections will be held accordingly within 30 days of each resignation.

Cait McKnelly 2 years, 5 months ago

That's right. Let the inmates run the asylum.

Katara 2 years, 5 months ago

"One proposal is to have county prosecutors and the attorney general’s office pursue the cases of elected officials who violate ethics and campaign finance laws."

Oh sure. Because county prosecutors simply don't have enough to do already.

Centerville 2 years, 5 months ago

What is Carol Williams still doing there? Talk about stone age political hackery. You will notice that the LJW can't be bothered to run any facts about who gets hassled and who doesn't.

Lynn Grant 2 years, 5 months ago

Tomatogrower has it right. In addition to the fact that there are more conservatives involved in campaigning, they are also the ones that tend to ignore the rules and complain when they get caught. I have had years of experience with the Ethics Commission and they have always been approachable and fair. Unfortunately, they are limited on how much they can do because of the budget. Two, maybe down to one, auditors makes it impossible to review each report. I say, man or woman up, be honest and follow the guidelines. It really isn't that hard/

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