Senate President Susan Wagle’s campaign fined over endorsement of Kobach
TOPEKA — The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission on Wednesday ordered Senate President Susan Wagle to pay a $100 fine out of her campaign account after an aide in her office used a state computer in July to announce her endorsement of Kris Kobach in his bid for the Republican nomination for governor.
Wagle, R-Wichita, issued the statement July 25, about two weeks before the Aug. 7 primary. But the statement was emailed to news media by her communications director, Shannon Golden, who admitted that she sent the email using a state computer while at work as a state employee.
The endorsement statement included a sentence that read: “I am proud to endorse Kris Kobach and I ask my fellow Republicans to stand with the candidate who best reflects Kansas values,” words that commission attorney Brett Berry said constituted “express advocacy” of a candidate.
Golden then became the target of a complaint alleging she had violated a state law that prohibits public employees from using public funds, vehicles, machinery, equipment or supplies “to expressly advocate the nomination, election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate to state office or local office.”
Violation of that law is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 for the first offense.
“The email was sent out using the computer and the office which belong to the state of Kansas, along with utilizing the email address owned by the state of Kansas, as well as Ms. Golden’s time, which she was on the state of Kansas clock at the time this was done,” Berry said.
Golden did not dispute the charges but entered a consent decree in which she admitted the violation. In a statement read to the commission, she said she had only been on the job about six months at the time, had not received any ethics training for her job and was not aware at the time that what she did was prohibited.
“When our office heard of concerns surrounding the press release, we immediately self-reported to Ethics,” she said. “We’ve done everything in our power to remain completely transparent throughout this entire process.”
Although the commission could have levied the fine against Golden, commission Vice Chairman Jerry Hellmer noted that Golden was merely an employee acting under the direction of her employer, Wagle.
After a brief executive session, the commission voted unanimously to levy a fine of $1,000. At the same time, though, the commission said it would waive $900 of that fine, provided the remaining $100 is paid out of Wagle’s campaign account and that Wagle establish an appropriate training program for Senate staff.
Wagle did not attend the Ethics Commission meeting.