In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita’s economic development, Sedgwick County spending, editorials ignoring facts, your house numbers, Kansas governors, taxpayer-funded political campaigns, and the nature of economic competition. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 127, broadcast August 21, 2016.
We want to believe that The Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and its PAC are a force for good. Why does the PAC need to be deceptive and untruthful?
In a mailing supporting David Dennis, the political arm of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce makes this statement about Karl Peterjohn: “The current county commissioner has spent his life making money from the government sector. When not working for the government, he worked as a registered lobbyist.”
If we look at reality, we find that the candidate who has been a government employee for his entire adult career, according to his bio, is Dennis. Working as a lobbyist is a private sector job, except for taxpayer-funded lobbyists. It’s not “making money from” the government sector. (Even if you disagree with lobbyists not “making money from” the government sector, Peterjohn has worked in private sector jobs that had nothing to do with government. There’s an outright lie from the Chamber.)
As I’m sure the Chamber knows, Karl Peterjohn lobbied on behalf of Kansas taxpayers, working to keep taxes and spending low. The Wichita Chamber, on the other hand, wants more taxes. Voters may remember that the campaign to create a Wichita city sales tax was run by the Wichita Chamber.
Why does the big-taxing Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and its PAC support David Dennis? The answer is they want more taxes from you. They must see Dennis as compliant with their desire for higher taxes.
It’s not only this. Another mailer says Peterjohn opposed building the Intrust Bank Arena. An accurate statement is Peterjohn opposed raising taxes to fund the arena. Many others held the same belief, as the vote for the arena tax was close, with 48 percent voting no tax for the arena. By the way, that tax was a sales tax, the type that falls disproportionately on low-income families.
We want to believe that our Chamber of Commerce is a force for good. Why does the Chamber need to be deceptive? Why does it lie to voters?
It would be one thing if the Wichita Chamber was a positive force for the Wichita-area economy. But the Chamber and its subsidiaries have been managing economic development for a long time. Nearby is a chart of job growth data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wichita job growth hasn’t always lagged behind the United States. But Wichita is now behind, and as the Wichita Chamber has taken more responsibility for managing our local economy, the gap between Wichita and the country is growing. Wichita is falling behind.
Attacks on Tim Huelskamp reveal the worst in political campaigning.
When the campaign of Roger Marshall accuses Tim Huelskamp of being in favor of abortion, you know his campaign is spiraling out of control. Either that, or the Marshall campaign is deliberately lying about a politician’s record.
Beyond this issue, the Marshall campaign and its surrogates are making arguments that simply have no basis in reality. An example is one radio ad, placed by an independent spending group, that uses the term “Washing-Tim.” The ad tries to persuade voters that Huelskamp has sold out to the Washington establishment. That is a true whopper, as Huelskamp has been anything but an establishment crony.
As an example, Huelskamp opposed the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank last year. This is an issue that draws a bright line, with progressive Democrats and left-wing Republicans on one side, and free-market, limited government conservatives on the other. The issue truly and precisely sorts politicians into two groups, and Huelskamp is on the right side of this issue. Which is to say, the non-establishment side. Yet, we get “Washing-Tim” from Marshall supporters.
Part of the problem is that officeholders in legislatures, both state and federal, must often vote on bills that contain hundreds of provisions. This bundling of so many often disparate issues into one vote allows unscrupulous campaigns to label someone as a supporter of an issue. That’s what the Marshall campaign and its surrogates are doing.
Mark Holden, a top leader of groups that support free-market causes including Americans for Prosperity, told The Hill this:
I don’t know who is behind [the ESAFund], I’ve heard different rumors about it, but Mr. Singer and the Ricketts family have been good partners of ours in the past and in the present as well. I totally am mystified by Ending Spending and their point of view. I just wonder who could be better [than Huelskamp] on the issues that a group like Ending Spending, I mean their whole name … who could be better on these issues than Tim Huelskamp? If you believe in fiscal responsibility, fiscal conservatism, the proper role of government, particularly on these economic issues that I’m talking about and that our network is focused on; we don’t know of anyone who’s better than Tim Huelskamp.
Huelskamp’s free-market bona fides are buttressed by his lifetime ratings with groups that focus on fiscal conservatism. Club for Growth rates Huelskamp at 100 percent lifetime. Americans for Prosperity scores him at 98 percent.
During election season, especially in close campaigns, we’re accustomed to seeing campaigns paint opponents in unflattering light. The Roger Marshall campaign and its surrogates, however, may be establishing a new standard for deceptive behavior and outright lies.
It’s interesting to look at campaign finance reports. Following, a few highlights on a report from the David Dennis campaign. He’s a candidate for Sedgwick County Commission in the August Republican Party primary election. The report was filed July 25, 2016, covering the period from January 1, 2016 through July 21, 2016. These reports are available online at the Sedgwick County Election Office website.
Keith Stevens, $200
A longtime Democrat community activist, always on the side of higher taxes and more government spending.
Suzanne F. Ahlstrand, $250
Gary & Cathy Schmitt, $100
Jon E. Rosell, $100
Charlie Chandler, Maria Chandler, $1,000 total
Al and Judy Higdon, $500
James & Vera Bothner, $250
Lyndon O. & Marty Wells, $500
All are, or have been, affiliated with the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce in various roles, including paid staff and leadership. At one time local chambers of commerce were dedicated to pro-growth economic policies and free markets. But no longer. The Wichita Chamber regularly advocates for more taxes (the 2014 Wichita sales tax campaign was run by the Wichita Chamber), more spending, more cronyism, and less economic freedom. It campaigns against fiscally conservative candidates when the alternative is a candidate in favor of more taxes. The Chamber says it does all this in the name of providing jobs in Wichita. If you’re wondering who ground down the Wichita economy over the past few decades, look no further than the Wichita Chamber of Commerce and its affiliates who have run Wichita’s economic development bureaucracy.
Harvey Sorensen, $500
Sorensen was one of the drivers behind the 2014 one cent per dollar Wichita city sales tax proposal, serving as co-chair of Yes Wichita, the primary group campaigning for the tax. In a public forum Sorensen said, “Koch Industries is going to spend a million dollars to try to kill the future of our community.”1 Wichita voters rejected that sales tax, with 62 percent of voters voting “No.”2 Since the election, we’ve learned that we can satisfy our water future needs by spending much less than Sorensen recommended, at least $100 million less.3 Part of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce cabal, Sorensen has played both sides of the street, having donated $500 to Jeff Longwell and the same amount to his opponent Sam Williams in the 2015 Wichita mayoral election. We might be led to wonder if Sorenson makes contributions based on sincerely held beliefs regarding public policy, or simply for access to officeholders.
Jon, Lauren, David, and Barbara Rolph, $2,000 total
Jon Rolph was another co-chair of Yes Wichita, the primary group campaigning for the 2014 Wichita city sales tax. Since then he’s floated the idea of trying again for a city sales tax.
Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union No. 441 Political Action Committee, $500
Labor unions rarely — very rarely — make campaign contributions to Republicans. Except for David Dennis.
Bryan K & Sheila R Frye, $50
Bryan Frye is a newly-elected Wichita City Council member who has quickly found a home among the other big-taxing, big-spending council members. He’d very much like a county commissioner who is compliant with more taxes and more spending — like David Dennis.
Lynn W. & Kristine L. Rogers, $50
Lynn Rogers is a Republican-turned-Democrat. As a member of the Wichita public schools board, he is an advocate for more school spending, less school accountability, and no school choice.
Alan J. & Sharon K. Fearey, $100
A Democrat, Sharon Fearey served two terms on the Wichita City Council. She was always an advocate for more taxes and spending, even scolding the Wichita Eagle when it thwarted her spending plans.
Foley Equipment, $500
Ann Konecny, $500
Foley was an advocate for the 2014 Wichita city sales tax, contributing $5,000 to the campaign. The next year, Foley asked for an exemption from property taxes and the sales tax that it campaigned for.4 Foley wanted poor people in Wichita to pay more sales tax on groceries, but didn’t want to pay that same sales tax itself.
BF Wichita, L.L.C., $500
A company affiliated with George Laham. He’s a partner in the taxpayer-subsidized River Vista Apartment project on the west bank of the Arkansas River north of Douglas Avenue. Rumor is that the apartment project will be abandoned in favor of selling the land as the site for an office building.
Automation Plus, $500
Sheryl Wohlford, Vice President, is a longtime progressive activist, a member of Wichita Downtown Vision Team. In short, someone who knows how to spend your money better than you.
Steven E. Cox, Janis E. Cox, $1,000 total
Owners of Cox Machine, this company regularly applies for and receives taxpayer-funded incentives, including the forgiveness of paying sales tax. Yet, this company contributed $2,000 to the campaign for the 2014 Wichita city sales tax.
Leon or Karen Lungwitz, $500
Owner of company where Wichita mayor Jeff Longwell once worked.
Slawson Commercial Properties, LLC, $500
Socora Homes, Inc., $500
New Market 1, LLC, $500
Buildings 22-23-24, LLC, $500
All are Slawson companies, advocates of and beneficiaries of taxpayer-funded subsidies.
Carl & Cathy Brewer, $200
The Democrat former mayor of Wichita. Enough said about that.
Tom Winters, $250
Winters is emblematic of the big-taxing, big-spending Republican officeholder who believes he knows how to spend your money better than you. Karl Peterjohn defeated Winters in the August 2008 primary election.
Timothy R. Austin, $150
We might label Austin as “engineer for the cronies” based on his frequent appearances before governmental bodies advocating for taxpayer-funded subsidy for his clients.
- Ryan, Kelsey. Comment on Koch involvement in sales tax heats up debate. Wichita Eagle, October 29, 2014. Available at www.kansas.com/news/local/article3456024.html. ↩
- Sedgwick County Election Office. November 4th, 2014 General Election Official Results — Sedgwick County. Available at www.sedgwickcounty.org/elections/election_results/Gen14/index.html. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, the phased approach to water supply can save a bundle. wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-phased-approach-water-supply-can-save-bundle/. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, campaigning for a tax, then asking for exemption from paying. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/campaigning-for-tax-then-asking-for-exemption-from-paying/. ↩
Why would a candidate split sentences in order to create an untruthful claim about his opponent?
In a Facebook post on the David Dennis campaign page, this claim is presented regarding Karl Peterjohn: “Claims to be anti-tax yet calls for RAISING sales taxes.”1
For many years Karl Peterjohn has been calling for a raise in the county sales tax, yes. That’s the first part of the plan. The second part of the plan is to eliminate the county property tax.
These two parts of the plan are so closely intertwined, so closely dependent on each other, that usually they appear in the same sentence, as in a Wichita Eagle op-ed: “Currently, the county imposes a 29.3 mill property tax countywide. This mill levy could be eliminated with about a 1.5-cent increase in the sales tax on a revenue-neutral basis.” 2
Why would a candidate split sentences in order to create an untruthful claim about his opponent? You’ll have to ask David Dennis.
- David Dennis for Sedgwick County Commission, District 3. Facebook. July 22, 2016. Available at www.facebook.com/vote4daviddennis/photos/a.885503861595816.1073741830.874272696052266/922554071224128/. ↩
- Peterjohn, Karl. Swap sales tax for county property tax. Wichita Eagle, Jun3 7, 2014. Available here www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article1145426.html. ↩
Kansas taxpayers should know their tax dollars are helping staff campaigns for political office.
As reported by the Wichita Eagle, it is perfectly allowable for some Kansas state government employees to work on political campaigns.1
Not all Kansas state government employees can work on campaigns while being paid by taxpayers. Only personal staff members of elected officials can. But this can be quite a large number of people. The Eagle reports that Governor Sam Brownback has 21 personal staff members.
It’s not only the governor that has taxpayer-paid employees on the campaign trail. The Eagle also reports that a member of Senate President Susan Wagle‘s office has been on the campaign trail.
That senate employee, along with an employee of the governor’s office, were spotted campaigning for Gene Suellentrop. His Facebook page seemed pleased with their participation, again according to Eagle reporting:
Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, who is seeking the vacant seat in Senate District 27, posted a photo of himself and 10 campaign door walkers on Facebook last month with a message saying, “The Suellentrop for Senate crew! Coming soon to your door step.”
The photo, posted on June 14, a Tuesday, includes Ashley Moretti, a member of Brownback’s staff, and Eric Turek, who works for Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.
“Those two showed up late that afternoon on their own, I have not requested any help from any leadership,” Suellentrop said in an e-mail. “They were sure happy to get into a picture of our winning campaign.”
The first question the taxpayers of Kansas ought to ask is this: If these taxpayer-paid staff members have time to work on political campaigns, who is doing the work of the people of Kansas in their absence? What tasks are postponed so that these staff members can work on campaigns?
The answer to this question, I’m afraid, is that there are too many staff members.
The second question we should ask is this: Why is this practice allowed? There is a ruling from the ethics commission that allows this use of personal staff. Which leads to the third question: Why hasn’t the legislature passed a law to prohibit this practice?
The answer to that last question, I’m afraid, is that the ruling class protects its own. For example, there is an organization known as the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Its job is to re-elect Republican senate incumbents. It doesn’t say this, but that is what it does. This is representative of the attitude of the political class. Once most officeholders have been in office a few years, they comfortably transition to the political class. Thereafter, their most important job is their re-election campaign, followed closely by the campaigns of their cronies.
This is why you see Brownback and Wagle lending taxpayer-funded staff to the Suellentrop campaign. Should he be elected to the Kansas Senate, well, how can’t he be grateful?
Here’s what needs to happen.
First, this process must stop. Even though it is allowable, it is not right. We need leaders that recognize this. (Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty.)
Second. The trio of Suellentrop, Brownback, and Wagle need to reimburse Kansas taxpayers for the salaries of these staff for the time spent working on campaigns. (We should not blame the staff members. It’s the bosses and rule makers that are the problem.)
Third. Brownback and Wagle need to send staff to work for Suellentrop’s Republican challenger to the same degree they worked on the Suellentrop campaign. Either that, or make a contribution of the same value of the campaign services these taxpayer-funded Kansas state government workers supplied. Any other candidate in a similar situation — that of having taxpayer funds used to campaign against them — should receive the same compensation.
Now, some may be wondering how is this different from the governor endorsing senate candidates in 2012. It’s one matter for an officeholder to endorse a candidate. It’s an entirely different matter to send taxpayer-paid staff to work on campaigns. I hope that didn’t happen in 2012.
Fourth. Apologies to Kansas taxpayers are in order, as is a quick legislative fix. And, a reduction in personal staff members, as — obviously — there are too many.
Finally, thanks to the Eagle’s Bryan Lowry for this reporting.
- Lowry, Bryan. Taxpayer-funded campaign staff can knock at Kansans’ doors. Wichita Eagle, July 17, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/election/article90179637.html. ↩
From the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: Republican primary candidates for Kansas Senate were invited to participate in a forum. Candidates invited were:
- In Kansas Senate District 25: William Eveland and Jim Price. (map)
- In Kansas Senate District 26: Byron C. Dunlavy and Dan Kerschen. Dunlavy did not attend. (map)
- In Kansas Senate District 28: Jo L. Hillman and Mike Petersen. Hillman did not attend. (map)
This is an audio presentation recorded on July 15, 2016.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: New outlets for news, and criticism of the existing. Is Kansas government “hollowed out?” Ideology and pragmatism. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 124, broadcast July 17, 2016.
The Sedgwick County Republican Party held a candidate forum. Invited were candidates for Kansas Senate, district 27, and Sedgwick County Commission, district 3. Candidates are:
- In Senate district 27: Lori Graham and Gene Suellentrop
- In Sedgwick County Commission district 3: David Dennis and Karl Peterjohn.
This is an audio presentation recorded on July 14, 2016.
David Dennis, candidate for Sedgwick County Commission, rewrites his history of service on the Kansas State Board of Education.
In 2012 the Lawrence Journal-World reported this regarding a meeting of the Kansas State Board of Education: “Board chairman David Dennis of Wichita said the state needs more information on home schools to ensure that children are being taught. … Dennis suggested perhaps the board should propose legislation to increase the state reporting requirements for home schoolers.”1 Other newspapers published similar reports.
Now, Dennis is a candidate for the Sedgwick County Commission. At a candidate forum held by the Wichita Pachyderm Club on June 10, I asked Dennis about regulation of homeschools. Was that representative of his stance towards homeschooling and regulation?
In his response, Dennis said the board never sent a recommendation to the Legislature. But that wasn’t the question that I asked. Here is a transcription of my question.
“This week the Wichita Eagle reported that as part of the effort to retain Cargill in Wichita that the City of Wichita will appoint an ombudsman to help shepherd Cargill through the labyrinth is the word they use of business processes and regulations in Wichita. Which seems to me to be tantamount that regulation in Wichita is burdensome. So for all candidates, I would ask, how do you feel about that? What can you do to streamline regulation? And for you, Mr. Dennis, I’m particularly concerned because as a member of the State Board of Education you proposed that the board recommend the Kansas Legislature pass regulations regarding the performance of home schools. So I’m wondering if that’s indicative of your philosophy toward a free market in education and regulation in general.”
In his response to this question, Dennis made a point of “correcting me,” contending that the Kansas State Board of Education never sent such a recommendation to the Legislature. He said it again for emphasis, thereby “correcting” me twice.
Initially, I was confused by his answer. I thought perhaps I had misstated the premise of my question. But after listening to the recording, I realized that I asked the question precisely as I had intended. I said that Dennis proposed that the board recommend regulation to the Legislature, not that the board actually made such a proposal to the Legislature.
Perhaps, I thought, David Dennis didn’t hear my question correctly. So I followed up by email, including a link to an audio recording of the exchange, the same recording that appears at the end of this article. He stood by his response.
I don’t like calling anyone a liar. I’m willing to allow that people misspoke, or didn’t understand the question, or had an episode of faulty recollection, or that they changed their position over time. So maybe this episode doesn’t represent David Dennis lying. Perhaps three newspaper reporters incorrectly reported what Dennis said during the board of education meeting.2 3
But David Dennis was gleeful in “correcting” me in public. Twice. And in a forum where debating the speakers is not part of the culture.
Maybe Dennis’s response wasn’t a lie. But it was deceptive. It was evasive. It was characteristic of someone who is supremely confident in himself, even when he is wrong.
Perhaps this confidence is useful when serving as a military officer, as Dennis did. But it isn’t evidence of humility, and that’s something we need in our public servants.
Following is an excerpt from the candidate forum containing my question and the response from the candidates. A recording of the entire meeting as available at From Pachyderm: Sedgwick County Commission candidates. The participating candidates were Dennis and his opponent Karl Peterjohn in district 3, and Michael O’Donnell, the Republican candidate in district 2. (Only Republican candidates were invited.)
- Rothschild, Scott. State board discusses home-schooling requirements. Lawrence Journal-World, August 14, 2012. Available at www2.ljworld.com/news/2012/aug/14/state-board-discusses-home-schooling-requirements/. ↩
- Associated press in Topeka Capital-Journal. Kansas education board looks into home schooling concerns. August 14, 2012. Available at cjonline.com/news/2012-08-15/kansas-education-board-looks-home-schooling-concerns. ↩
- Tobias, Suzanne Perez. Kansas education official’s comment riles home-schooling parents. Wichita Eagle, August 18, 2012. Available at www.kansas.com/news/article1097490.html. ↩
Comments by two Wichita city council members give citizens more reasons to be cynical and distrusting of politicians.
In a recent Facebook post that someone sent to me, Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) wrote: “Hmmmm…..of note; Wichita is the only sizable city in Kansas that does not ADD any sales tax on top of the State and Sedgwick County sales tax rate.”
It is astonishing that council member Meitzner would brag of this — that Wichita has no city sales tax. That’s because Meitzner, along with all council members but one, voted to place the sales tax measure on the November 2014 ballot. Wichita voters rejected that sales tax, with 62 percent of voters voting “No.”1
Meitzner is not the only council member to brag of no city sales tax in Wichita. Just a month after the November 2014 election in which Wichita voters rejected the sales tax, Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) said, in a council meeting, “thanks to a vote we just had, [Wichita] has zero municipal sales tax.”2
I wonder: If the Wichita city sales tax had passed, would Meitzner and Clendenin feel the same way?
The answer is “No.” If the sales tax had passed, I believe Wichita city council members Pete Meitzner and James Clendenin would be congratulating themselves on the wisdom and foresight that led them to allow Wichitans to vote on the tax. They would be boasting of their ability to gauge the sentiment of public opinion. They would be proud of the investment they are making in Wichita’s future.
That’s important to remember. The city council, at its initiative, decided to place the sales tax on the ballot. Why would the council do this if it did not believe the tax was a good thing for the city?
Because if the tax would not be good for Wichita, then we have to wonder: Why did the Wichita City Council — including Pete Meitzner and James Clendenin — decide that the people of Wichita should vote on a sales tax? Was it a whim? A flight of fancy? Just a poll to gauge public opinion, without binding meaning?
Anyone can conduct a poll of public opinion. But when the Wichita city council places a measure on the ballot asking whether there should be a sales tax, the results have meaning. The results are binding. There will be a new tax, if a majority of voters agree.
Say, what should we ask the city council to let us vote on this November?
We have to ask: Why would Wichita city council members allow Wichitans to vote on a tax they didn’t — personally — believe in? There is no good answer to this question. So when we see city council members boasting of no city sales tax in Wichita, remember this was not their preference. This is especially important because the city told us we needed to spend $250 million of the tax on a new water supply. Now we know that we can satisfy our future needs by spending much less, at least $100 million less.3
Lily Tomlin once said “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.” Here we have two Wichita city council members illustrating and reinforcing the truth of Tomlin’s observation.
- Sedgwick County Election Office. November 4th, 2014 General Election Official Results – Sedgwick County. Available at www.sedgwickcounty.org/elections/election_results/Gen14/index.html. ↩
- City of Wichita. Minutes of city council meeting, December 2, 2014. Page 9. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, the phased approach to water supply can save a bundle. wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-phased-approach-water-supply-can-save-bundle/. ↩
On June 28, 2016, candidates for Sedgwick County Commission participated in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Participating candidates included:
- For district 3: Karl Peterjohn, David Dennis, and Marcey Gregory.
- For district 2: Tim Norton.
From the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: Republican primary candidates participated in an 18th Judicial District Candidates’ Forum. This is an audio presentation recorded on June 24, 2016. Candidates included:
Division 3: Gregory D. Keith, Carl Maughan
Division 14: Linda Kirby, Patrick Walters
Division 21: Jeff Dewey, Robert A. Holubec, Quentin Pittman
Division 24: Shawn Elliott, Timothy H. Henderson, Tyler J. Roush
(For these offices, the divisions do not represent a geographical area. Everyone in Sedgwick County is able to vote for all judicial divisions.)
From the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: Republican candidates for the Kansas House of Representatives participated in a candidate forum. This is an audio presentation recorded on June 17, 2016.
In Kansas House District 87: Jeremy Alessi and Roger Elliott (district map)
In Kansas House District 91: Greg Lakin and J.C. Moore (district map)
In Kansas House District 94: Scott Anderson and Leo Delperdang (district map)
From the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: A forum featuring Republican primary election candidates for Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners. This is an audio recording made on June 10, 2016.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Citizen activists were concerned about unleashing a corrupting influence in Wichita City Hall, but they didn’t know it’s already there. Then, the regulatory landscape in Wichita. Finally, what can a pencil teach us about how the world works? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 121, broadcast June 12, 2016.
On Friday May 20, 2016, Professor Chapman Rackaway of Fort Hays State University briefed members and guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club on the August primary elections. Two surprises: Will Jerry Moran have a Republican challenger, and who does Dr. Rackaway believe Donald Trump should select for a running mate? This is an audio presentation. Accompanying visual aids are here.
Some citizen activists and Wichita city council members believe that a single $500 campaign contribution from a corporation has a corrupting influence. But stacking dozens of the same $500 contributions from executives and spouses of the same corporation? Not a problem.
On December 1, 2015 the Wichita City Council considered an ordinance regarding campaign finance for city elections. A Wichita Eagle article on the topic started with: “A proposed change in city ordinance would allow corporations, labor unions and political action committees to have a greater influence on Wichita politics. For years, city elections have remained insulated from the power of those groups, unlike national and state elections, because Wichita ordinance specifically forbids them from contributing to local campaigns.” 1
The city believed the proposed action was necessary to comply with recent court rulings. Under the proposed ordinance — which was passed by the council — corporations, labor unions, and political action committees would be able to make a single campaign contribution per election cycle of up to $500, the same limit as for individuals.
During the council meeting, citizens testified as to the terrible consequences should the council pass this ordinance. Here are a few excerpts taken from the minutes of the meeting:
- “Citizens United has unleashed Frankenstein monsters purchasing our government with their pocket money.”
“Stated corruption and conflicts of interest have become institutionalized and what City legal counsel suggests will sell the Council and the City of Wichita to the highest bidder.”
“Stated according to a lengthy report last week, by the Pew Research Center, across party lines people are distrustful and concerned about big money in politics.”
“Stated big money does not donate, it invests and buys democracy. Stated she is asking the City Council to keep big money out of the City Council elections.”
“Allowing big money into City elections is a concern.”
“Stated the City has been independent and has a freedom from influence that the state and the nation do not enjoy. Stated you will then be under the thumb of people who want to control you. which is scary to those of them who are highly opposed to this situation and hopes that the Council will think of them and how this vote will benefit them.”
“Stated the League [of Women Voters] has studied campaign finance over the years at all three levels. Stated they are currently involved in the study of money and politics and their position currently reads that they want to improve the methods of financing political campaigns in order to ensure the public’s right to know and combat corruption and undue influence, which is their biggest concern.”
In its reporting after the meeting, the Eagle reported more concern: 2
But those who oppose the measure said they were concerned about opening up local elections to party-affiliated groups like PACs and about transparency since PACs do not have to report their individual donors.
“Individuals should decide elections, not corporations,” Frye said.
Several members of the public spoke against the changes.
“People in the shadows are going to be pulling your strings,” said Russ Pataki.
“It’s very worrisome what big money has done to state and national politics. The city has been independent (of that),” said Lynn Stephan to the council before the vote. “You have a freedom from influence the state and nation don’t enjoy.”
So, people are concerned about the corrupting influence of political campaign donations from corporations and political action committees. Citizens — and the Wichita Eagle — believe that currently the city council is free from this influence.
But the reality of city council campaign financing is different.
In my testimony at the December 1 meeting, I explained that there are a few corporations that stack campaign contributions in a way that circumvents prohibitions. Although I did not mention it at the meeting, sometimes campaign finance reporting laws allowed this to happen without disclosure until after relevant action had happened. To illustrate, here is a timeline of events involving just one company and its campaign contributions.
2008 and 2009
Executives of Key Construction and their spouses make six contributions to the Lavonta Williams campaign, totaling $3,000.
2010 and 2011
Executives of Key Construction and their spouses make eight contributions to the Carl Brewer campaign, totaling $4,000. Brewer was Wichita mayor running for re-election in 2011.
Executives of Key Construction and their spouses make eight contributions to the Jeff Longwell campaign, totaling $4,000.
The City of Wichita is preparing to build a new airport terminal with a cost of around $100 million. Key Construction and Dondlinger and Sons Construction are two bidders. The contract is controversial. Dondlinger submitted a lower bid than Key, but it was alleged that Dondlinger’s bid did not meet certain requirements.
January 24, 2012
Executives of Key Construction and their spouses make six contributions to the James Clendenin campaign, totaling $3,000.
April 2, 2012
On this day and the next, executives of Key Construction and their spouses make eight contributions to the Jeff Longwell campaign for Sedgwick County Commission, totaling $4,000. At the time, Longwell was a Wichita city council member.
April 17, 2012
On this day and the next, executives of Key Construction and their spouses make eight contributions to the Lavonta Williams campaign, totaling $4,000.
July 16, 2012
An executive of a Michigan construction company and his wife contribute $1,000 to Longwell’s campaign for county commission. The company, Walbridge, is partnering with Wichita-based Key Construction to bid on the Wichita airport terminal contract.3
July 17, 2012
The Wichita city council votes in favor of Key Construction and Walbridge on a dispute over the airport terminal contract, adding over $2 million to its cost. Brewer, Longwell, Williams, and Clendenin participated in the meeting and voted. City documents state the job of the council this day was to determine whether the staff who made the decision in favor of Key Construction “abused their discretion or improperly applied the law.”4
July 20, 2012
An additional $2,250 in contributions from Walbridge executives to the Jeff Longwell campaign for Sedgwick County Commission campaign is reported.
Williams and Clendenin file campaign finance reports for the calendar year 2012. This is the first opportunity to learn of the campaign contributions from Key Construction executives and their spouses during 2012. For Williams, the Key Construction-related contributions were the only contributions received for the year. Clendenin received contributions from Key Construction-related individuals and parties associated with one other company during the year.
Is there a pattern? Yes. Key Construction uses its executives and their spouses to stack individual contributions, thereby bypassing the prohibition on campaign contributions from corporations. This has been going on for some time. It is exactly the type of corrupting influence that citizens are worried about. It has been taking place right under their eyes, if they knew how or cared to look. And Key Construction is not the only company to engage in this practice.
Just to summarize: The Wichita city council was charged to decide whether city officials had “abused their discretion or improperly applied the law.” That sounds almost like a judicial responsibility. How much confidence should we have in the justice of a decision if a majority of the judges have taken multiple campaign contributions from executives (and their spouses) of one of the parties?
In some ways, it is understandable that citizens might not be aware of this campaign contribution stacking. The campaign finance reports that council members file don’t contain the name of contributors’ employers. It takes a bit of investigation to uncover the linkage between contributors and the corporations that employ them. For citizens, that might be considered beyond the call of duty. But we should expect better from organizations like the League of Women Voters.
Certainly there is no excuse for the Wichita Eagle to miss or avoid things like this. Even worse, it is disgraceful that the Eagle would deny the problem, as it did in its November 23 article quoted above.
In summary, some citizen activists — most council members, too — believe that a single $500 campaign contribution from a corporation has a corrupting influence. But stacking dozens of the same $500 contributions from executives and spouses of the same corporation? Not a problem.
Political campaign contributions are a form of speech and should not be regulated. What we need are so-called pay-to-play laws, which regulate the linkage between campaign contributions and council member participation in matters that benefit donors.5
Either that, or we need council members with sufficient character to recognize when they should refrain from voting on a matter.
- Ryan. Kelsey. Wichita City Council considers changes to campaign finance, salaries. Wichita Eagle, November 23, 2015. Available at www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article45993895.html. ↩
- Ryan, Kelsey. Wichita council votes to change local campaign finance law, raise council salaries. Wichita Eagle, December 1, 2015. Available at www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article47329045.html. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. Michigan company involved in disputed Wichita airport contract contributes to Jeff Longwell. Voice for Liberty. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/michigan-company-involved-in-disputed-wichita-airport-contract-contributes-to-jeff-longwell/. ↩
- Wichita City Council agenda packet for July 17, 2012. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. *Kansas needs pay-to-play laws.” Voice for Liberty. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/kansas-needs-pay-to-play-laws/. ↩
An op-ed written under the banner of a non-profit organization appears to violate the ban on electioneering.
In a recent Wichita Eagle op-ed, former state budget director and senior fellow at the Kansas Center for Economic Growth Duane Goosen offered some wise advice to Kansas voters: “Before voting, check out legislative candidates carefully.”1
But he then follows immediately with this: “If a candidate supported Brownback’s fiscal experiment and wants to stay the course, being a financially literate voter requires marking your ballot for somebody else.”
This seems to cross a line, that line being electioneering by non-profit organizations. KCEG itself is not a recognized non-profit organization. Instead, it is a side project of Kansas Action for Children, Inc., which is a section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.
In exchange for their tax exempt status, these organizations face certain restrictions. In particular, the Internal Revenue Service says these organizations are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”2
The IRS says voter education activities conducted in a non-partisan manner are allowed. But: “On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.”3
The candidates Goossen recommends voting against, while not named in his op-ed, are a clearly-defined set. Their names appear in news stories, editorials, the Journal of the House of Representatives and other places. This is an example of “oppose a candidate in some manner,” and is where Goossen appears to cross the line from voter education to electioneering.
- Goossen, Duane. Governor, lawmakers flunk financial literacy. Wichita Eagle, May 7, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article76165857.html. ↩
- Internal revenue service. The Restriction of Political Campaign Intervention by Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations. Available at www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Charitable-Organizations/The-Restriction-of-Political-Campaign-Intervention-by-Section-501(c)(3)-Tax-Exempt-Organizations. ↩
- ibid. ↩