LJWorld.com weblogs Town Talk
Advance voter turnout at highest level since 2005; update about which PACs have to report their spending for local races
Your time to have some Lawrence City Commission election fun is quickly winding down. For example, if you were hoping to vote in advance, you’ve just missed your window.
Advance voting ended at noon today for the April 2 local election, which also includes races for the Lawrence school board and the school bond election. Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew reports that 1,583 advance ballots were cast for the general election.
Those advance ballots are sometimes a good predictor of voter turnout, and, if that is true this year, then we should expect a few more people than usual to come to the polls for a local election.
The 1,583 advanced ballots represent a 49 percent increase over the number of advanced ballots cast for the 2011 city/school board election. In fact, this year’s total is the highest since 2005, when 1,619 voters turned out in advance.
Higher numbers for this election wouldn’t be a surprise because there is a school bond election on the ballot. That has provided a boost to voter totals in past years.
Couple that with the fact that a snowstorm created a very lightly attended primary election in February, and political observers have several questions about how tomorrow’s race will shake out. I would guess that the race for the third and final seat on the Lawrence City Commission will be a tight one.
We’ll know by tomorrow evening. The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, and this time it appears unlikely that voters will have to deal with snow.
• When it comes to election questions, a few of you have had some about political action committees. As we have reported, a new PAC formed this year, Lawrence United, to promote a pro-jobs/pro-business platform. We’ve detailed its fundraising activities, as they have been reported to the Douglas County Clerk’s office.
But there are other PACs out there as well. The most visible in the last few days have been the PACs created by the local employee associations (basically unions) of the Lawrence police officers and Lawrence firefighters.
Perhaps you have noticed they have been running advertisements asking you to vote for a slate of candidates. Both groups have endorsed City Commissioner Mike Amyx, Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan. Those three candidates were the top three finishers in the primary election.
But some of you have wanted to know how much money those PACs have raised and spent on this election. Well, you’ll find out, but not right now.
An oddity of state law gives those PACs until Jan. 10, 2014, to report their spending and fundraising during this election. That’s because both those PACs are registered as state PACs, meaning they can expend money on state legislative races, in addition to local city and school board races. The Lawrence United PAC, in contrast, registered only as a local PAC.
Local PACs have a reporting period that falls during the local election season. State PACs do not. That state law quirk has been a source of frustration for some.
“It puts the public at a disadvantage because you don’t know how much money is being raised or how much is being spent,” said Carol Williams, executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.
But Williams stressed the groups are meeting all of the state laws. And it would be hard to argue that the groups should register only as a local PAC. With some of the bills before the Legislature this year, it is easy to see how police and firefighter groups may want to become involved in some Statehouse races. If they registered as a local PAC, they would be prohibited from doing so.
As for these two PACs, the police and firefighters, their past reports indicate their fundraising activity is pretty straightforward. During the 2011 local elections, the police PAC had $5,000. All of it came from the police association itself, rather than from special interest groups. The Lawrence Professional Firefighters PAC had $5,975. All of its donations came in the form of donations of $50 or less.
Both groups generally give $500, the maximum under state law, to each of the candidates ndorsed. The groups also generally run a few ads asking people to support those candidates. (UPDATE: Rob Neff, treasurer for the police PAC called me today and said that has been the case this year too. It has given $500 to the three candidates it has endorsed, and has spent a little less than $1,300 on advertisements and fliers related to the election.)
At least one other group makes a point to publicly announce endorsements. The Lawrence Board of Realtors has endorsed Amyx, Riordan and Rob Chestnut.
The Lawrence Board of Realtors doesn’t have its own PAC. But there is a Kansas Realtors Political Action Committee, and it has given donations to candidates in this race and in past city commission races. The Kansas Realtors PAC is a good example of how a truly statewide PAC sometimes will dip its toe into local races. The Kansas Realtors PAC in 2011 had just under $240,000.
Then there are some groups that do some election-season advertising but don’t have to report their expenditures because they aren’t specifically advocating for the election of a particular individual. Williams said that often is how the group Americans for Prosperity structures its advertisements. I haven’t seen it, but Jim Mullins, a field director for Americans for Prosperity, confirmed to me that the group did send out a mailer this weekend that dealt with some Lawrence City Commission topics and also had some mention of candidate Rob Chestnut. Again, I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know the specifics on its content. (UPDATE: I asked the folks at AFP to send me one, and they did. The mailer doesn't mention the election but instead talks about Chestnut's role in balancing budgets when he was on the commission. Instead of asking you to vote for him, it asks you to call him and then lists his cell number.)
The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has a website that lists all the state political action committees and their most recent finance reports. There are about 250 of the PACs.
The only other one that clearly is Lawrence-based is the Lawrence Teachers PAC, which had $2,928 available during the 2011 campaign.
It will be interesting to see if more are formed in Lawrence in the future. The list from Governmental Ethics makes it clear that the idea of a PAC to support local jobs or local business growth isn’t unique. The Wichita Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Kansas City Area Chamber of Commerce are both examples of local chambers of commerce that have political action committees. Lenexa also had what was called a “Business Issues” political action committee, and the homebuilders in the Kansas City area had a couple of PACs.
What is unique about the new Lawrence United PAC is that it has registered as a true local PAC, meaning it has to show its fundraising activity now, rather than well after the fact.