Tag Archives: Elections

Additional cost of proposed Wichita sales tax as percent of after-tax income, by income quintile

Wichita sales tax hike would hit low income families hardest

Analysis of household expenditure data shows that a proposed sales tax in Wichita affects low income families in greatest proportion, confirming the regressive nature of sales taxes.

One of the criticisms of a sales tax is that it is regressive. That is, it affects low-income families in greatest proportion. This is an important consideration to explore, because in November Wichita voters will decide whether to create a new city sales tax of one cent per dollar. If enacted, the sales tax in Wichita would rise from 7.15 percent to 8.15 percent.

It’s an important issue because to hear some people talk, it seems as though they are saying the proposed tax is “one penny.” Anyone can afford that, they say. But the tax is an extra penny on each dollar spent, meaning that the cost of, say, fifty dollars of food at the grocery store increases by fifty cents, not one penny.

Further, we hear the sales tax spoken of as being a one percent increase. That’s true, if we mean a one percent increase in the cost of most things we buy. And one percent, after all, is just one percent. Not a big deal, people say. But considering the sales tax we pay, a relevant calculation is this: (8.15 – 7.15) / 7.15 = 14 percent. Which is to say, the amount of sales tax we pay will rise by 14 percent.

Click the table for a larger version.
Click the table for a larger version.
To explore the effect of the proposed sales tax on families of different incomes, I gathered data from the U.S. Census Bureau, specifically table 1101, which is “Quintiles of income before taxes: Annual expenditure means, shares, standard errors, and coefficient of variation, Consumer Expenditure Survey, 2012, (Selected Values).” This table divides families into five quintiles. It gives annual expenditures for each quintile in various categories. For each category, I judged whether it is subject to sales tax. For example, for housing, I indicated it is not subject to sales tax. This is not totally accurate, as some of the spending in this category may be for taxable items like maintenance and repair supplies. Food is subject to sales tax in Kansas, although low-income families may apply for a rebate of the tax. Despite these shortcomings, I feel this data gives us an approximation of the effect of the sales tax. (Click on the table to view a larger version, or see below for how to obtain the data.)

As you might imagine, as income rises, so does total taxable expenditures. Of interest, the percent of expenditures that are taxable is relatively constant across income levels.

Additional cost of proposed Wichita sales tax as percent of after-tax income, by income quintileAn important finding is the bottom line of the table, which shows the increase in cost due to the proposed sales tax as percent of income after taxes. This calculates the relative impact of the proposed sales tax increase as a percent of income. It is here that we expect to see the regressive nature of a sales tax appear. For all consumers, the increase in cost is 0.35 percent. For the lowest class of income, the increase in cost is 0.97 percent of income. It falls to 0.26 percent for the highest income class.

This means that the lowest income class of families experience an increase nearly four times the magnitude as do the highest income families, as a percentage of after-tax income. This is the regressive nature of sales taxes illustrated in numbers, and is something that Wichita policy makers and voters should consider.

I’ve made the data available as a Google Docs spreadsheet. Click here for access.

WichitaLiberty.TV July 2, 2014

WichitaLiberty.TV: Primary election results, and a look forward

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: We’ll take a look at some of the primary elections results this week. What did voters say, and what should we look for in the November general election and the future past that? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 54, broadcast August 10, 2014.

United States Capitol, July 2011

Elections in Kansas: Federal offices

Kansas Republican primary voters made two good decisions this week.

Kansas held primary elections this week. The primary election, of course, does not determine who wins the office; it only selects one Democratic and one Republican candidate to move forward to the November general election. But in many cases, the primary is the election, at least the one that really makes a difference. That’s because in Kansas, often there may be no Democratic Party candidate. Or if there is a Democrat, that candidate may have little money available to campaign in a district with a large Republican voter registration advantage.

It’s important to note that some candidates who will appear on the general election ballot in November did not appear on any primary election ballot. That’s because parties other than Democratic and Republican select their candidates in a convention. In particular, there are two prominent candidates in this category. One is Keen Umbehr, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor. The other is independent candidate Greg Orman, who is running for United States senator. Both are serious candidates that deserve consideration from voters.

Let’s take a look at a few results from the primary election.

United States Senate

United States Senate Primary, 2014
In the contest for the Republican Party nomination for United States Senate, Pat Roberts won, receiving 48 percent of the vote. He moves on to face not only the Democratic nominee, but also an independent candidate who is already advertising on television. The problem Roberts faces going forward is the fallout from his scorched-earth campaign. He went negative against Milton Wolf from the start, focusing on issues that are worth considering, but quite trivial considering the big picture.

Pat Roberts millions on negative ads
Roberts ran an advertisement near the end of the campaign that took Wolf’s words grossly out of context, and Roberts should be ashamed for stooping to that level. Another thing Roberts can be ashamed of is his refusal to debate opponents. He said he would debate. He should debate. It’s a civic obligation. He also largely avoided news media.

Pat Roberts StarKistDuring the campaign, I was critical of Roberts. I looked at votes he had taken while in the Senate. I looked at the way he ran his campaign. I was critical. I hope that I kept my criticism based on — and focused on — facts and issues. But another problem Roberts has is the behavior of his supporters, both official and unofficial. They too ran a scorched-earth campaign.

Tweet about Milton Wolf I’d like to show you some of the posts made on Facebook and Twitter about Wolf and his supporters, but this is a family-oriented blog. Roberts will need the support of all Kansas Republicans in the general election. He needs to hope that they don’t peel off to the Democrat or Independent candidates. Roberts needs all Kansas Republicans to vote, and vote for him. But the behavior of his campaign and its supporters has harmed Republican party unity. What’s curious to me is that I don’t think they realize the harm they have caused.

United States House of Representatives, district 4

United States House, District 4For United States House, fourth district, which is Wichita and the surrounding area, incumbent Mike Pompeo won over Todd Tiahrt, 63 percent to 37 percent. This contest was curious for a number of reasons, such as the former holder of the office seeking it again, and running against a man he endorsed twice. It attracted national attention for that reason, but also for something more important: Tiahrt was advocating for a return to the practice of earmarking federal spending. Tiahrt concentrated a few issues in a campaign that was negative from the start.

Tiahrt claimed that Pompeo voted to support Obamacare seven times. But everyone who examined that claim, including several political science professors, said it was unfounded, going as far as saying it broke the truth entirely. The Tiahrt campaign also took a speech Pompeo had made on the floor of the House of Representatives and used just one sentence of it in a deceptive manner. The campaign also took a bill that Pompeo introduced — having to do with GMOs — and twisted its meaning in order to claim that Pompeo doesn’t want you to know the ingredients used in food. Tiahrt criticized Pompeo for missing some votes during the campaign, even though Tiahrt had missed many votes during his own campaign four years ago.

In the face of these negative ads, Pompeo remained largely positive. He released one television ad that rebutted the claims that Tiahrt had made. Is it negative campaigning to rebut the false accusations of your opponent? Pompeo had one ad that mentioned “goofy accusations” made by his opponent, which hardly qualifies as negative. Other than that, the Pompeo campaign remained largely positive. That is quite an accomplishment in today’s political environment.

This campaign was also marred by vitriol among supporters. In my opinion, based on my observations, the Tiahrt supporters that engaged in this behavior have some apologies to make. Pompeo goes on to face a relatively unknown Democrat in the heavily Republican fourth district.

United States House of Representatives, district 1

United States House, District 1For United States House, first district, which is western Kansas, although the district extends east enough to include Emporia and Manhattan, incumbent Tim Huelskamp was challenged by Alan LaPolice. Huelskamp won with 55 percent of the vote. Huelskamp had faced criticism for not being supportive of various subsidy programs that benefit farmers, most notably for ethanol. Outside groups joined the race, running ads critical of Huelskamp for that reason. Some ads were critical of Huelskamp for being removed from the House Agriculture committee, that move seen as retaliation for not supporting Speaker of the House John Boehner. Huelskamp now moves on to face a Kansas State University history professor who was also the mayor of Manhattan.

The meaning of these results

What do these results mean? These three elections — Senate and two House contests — attracted national attention. The Friday before the election, Kimberly Strassel wrote in the Wall Street Journal of the importance of the fourth district contest. She wrote:

A big decision comes Tuesday in the Kansas GOP primary. The Sunflower State is in the throes of political upheaval, with most of the attention on the fortunes of Gov. Sam Brownback and Sen. Pat Roberts. But the race that may say far more about the direction of the GOP is taking place in Wichita, the state’s Fourth District, in the standoff between Rep. Mike Pompeo and challenger Todd Tiahrt.

Pompeo was elected in the 2010 tea party surge, with a particular focus on liberating private enterprise. He’s made a name for himself as a leader in the fight to end corporate welfare and pork, and to cut back on strangling regulations.

A Crony Capitalist Showdown

After detailing some legislative activity and accomplishment, Strassel noted the difficulty that fighters for economic freedom encounter: She wrote “Such principles are precisely what conservative voters claim to demand from their representatives. Yet the antisubsidy line has hardly been an easy one, even in conservative Kansas — which collects its share of federal largess. And Mr. Tiahrt knows it.”

Continuing, she wrote: “The choice voters fundamentally face on Tuesday is whether they want a congressman who works to get government smaller for everyone and to end corporate welfare, or a congressman who grabs what he can of big government to funnel to his district, and embraces crony capitalism. The latter is a return to the unreformed GOP, a groove plenty of Republicans would happily slide back into — if only voters gave the nod. We’ll see if Kansas conservatives do.”

There’s something there that bears repeating: “Such principles are precisely what conservative voters claim to demand from their representatives.” In the case of Huelskamp and Pompeo, voters supported two candidates who have these principals, and who follow them. In the United States Senate contest, that almost happened.

In Kansas, hypocritical criticism of voting records

Kansas fourth district voters may want to be aware of voting record of a congressional challenger, and whether his criticism of his opponent for similar behavior is hypocritical.

Todd Tiahrt has criticized Congressman Mike Pompeo for missing recent votes. A Tiahrt campaign press release contained: “‘Mr. Pompeo’s job is not to raise money or have political events — his job is to vote.’ stated Todd Tiahrt.”

It’s not uncommon for officeholders to be absent during campaign season. Relevant to this is Tiahrt’s own voting record four years ago. At that time he was campaigning for the United States Senate while serving in the House of Representatives, and he missed a lot of votes.

Todd Tiahrt voting record from govtrack.us, showing missed votes during an election campaign. Click for larger version.
Todd Tiahrt voting record from govtrack.us, showing missed votes during an election campaign. Click for larger version.
From July to September 2010, Tiahrt missed 76 of 151 votes. That’s missing 50.3 percent, which placed him in the 99th percentile for missing votes during those months. Data is from govtrack.us.

So if missing votes during a campaign is relevant information that voters might use in making their decisions, voters might want to also be aware of Tiahrt’s record.

More importantly, voters might question a candidate who criticizes another for doing the same as he did. This is hypocrisy, that is, the practice of professing standards and beliefs that are contrary to one’s real character or actual behavior.

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Women for Kansas voting guide should be read with caution

If voters are relying on a voter guide from Women for Kansas, they should consider the actual history of Kansas taxation and spending before voting.

A political advocacy group known as Women for Kansas has produced a voting guide, listing the candidates that it prefers for Kansas House of Representatives. But by reading its “Primer on the Issues,” we see that this group made its endorsements based on incorrect information.

One claim the group makes is this regarding taxes in Kansas: “Income taxes were reduced for many Kansans in 2012 and 2013, and eliminated entirely for some, with a corresponding increased reliance on sales taxes and local property taxes. This shifted the tax burden to the less affluent and from the state to counties, cities and school districts.”

This is a common theme heard in Kansas the past few years. But let’s unravel a few threads and look at what is actually happening. First, keep in mind that the lower tax rates took effect on January 1, 2013, just 1.5 years ago.

Then, Women for Kansas may be relying on information like this: A university professor who is a critic of Sam Brownback recently wrote in a newspaper column that “Property taxes are on track to increase by more than $400 million statewide during Gov. Sam Brownback’s term in office.”

Through correspondence with the author, Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute found that this claim is based on increases of $300 million plus an estimated $100 million increase yet to come. Trabert noted that this amounts to an increase of 11 percent over four years. To place that in context, property taxes increased $767 million and 29 percent during the first term of Kathleen Sebelius. Inflation was about the same during these two periods. A more accurate claim would be that Kathleen Sebelius shifted taxes to counties, cities, and school districts, and that Sam Brownback’s administration has slowed the rate of local property tax increases compared to previous governors.

Another claim made by Women for Kansas concerns school spending: “Reflecting decreased revenues due to tax cuts, per-pupil spending is down, and both K-12 and higher education are facing further reductions in the immediate future.”

The allegations that per-pupil spending is down due to tax cuts is false. The nearby chart of Kansas school spending (per pupil, adjusted for inflation) shows that spending did fall, but under budgets prepared by the administrations of Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. Since then, spending has been fairly level. (Remember, lower tax rates have been in effect for just 1.5 years.)

Kansas school spending, per student, from state, local, and federal sources, adjusted for inflation.
Kansas school spending, per student, from state, local, and federal sources, adjusted for inflation.

If we look at other measures of school support, such as pupil teacher ratios, we find that after falling during the administrations of previous governors, these ratios have rebounded in recent years.

When spending figures for the just-completed school year become available, it’s likely that they will show higher spending than the previous year. That’s been the trend.

If you’ve received or read the voter guide from Women for Kansas, please consider the actual history of Kansas taxation and spending before voting.

exchange-of-ideas-222787_1280

Roberts campaign manager was for debates until he was against them

For Pat Roberts executive campaign manager Leroy Towns, political debates are important. At least until your candidate doesn’t want to debate.

Are debates important to the political process? According to a former North Carolina University journalism professor, the answer is yes, debates are very important:

Leroy Towns, political journalism professor at UNC, said debates are very important in the political process.

“Debates give people a chance to look at candidates close up and see how they act under pressure situations,” Towns said. (Libertarian candidate Michael Beitler kept from debate, Daily Tarheel, September 13, 2010)

Fast forward four years. As executive campaign manager for Pat Roberts during his primary campaign for United States Senator, Towns now says Roberts won’t debate challengers.

You might think that a former journalism professor would be in favor of the voting public having greater access to candidates. Especially candidates when in pressure situations, as Towns advocated in 2010. This idea is congruent with Roberts’ campaign commercials. They portray the senator as tough and tested; a Marine who will stand up to anyone.

Roberts’ decision to skip a useful ritual of American politics may lessen his stress level and advance his personal political career, and the career of campaign manager Towns. But it disrespects Kansas voters.

Voting attendance an issue in Kansas fourth district campaign

Todd Tiahrt has criticized Congressman Mike Pompeo for missing votes this month. But when Tiahrt was campaigning for the United States Senate while also serving in the House of Representatives, he missed a lot of votes.

Todd Tiahrt voting record from govtrack.us, showing missed votes during an election campaign. Click for larger version.
Todd Tiahrt voting record from govtrack.us, showing missed votes during an election campaign. Click for larger version.
From July to September 2010, Tiahrt missed 76 of 151 votes. That’s missing 50.3 percent, which placed him in the 99th percentile for missing votes during those months. Data is from govtrack.us.

Tiahrt has made a point of mentioning a specific vote that Pompeo missed, on July 10 for H.R. 4923: Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015. During Monday’s debate on KWCH Television, Tiahrt said “We also need to stop the regulations on farmers. The one opportunity that Mr. Pompeo had to do something for farmers was during the energy and water appropriations bill. and he was absent that day. He abandoned his post. And because of that, farmers are going to be facing the EPA and increased water regulations, what is going to hurt the family farmers.”

Later in the debate Tiahrt repeated his assertion that because of Pompeo’s missed vote on H.R. 4923, farmers will face increased regulation on puddles and stock ponds.

To the extent that this bill protects farmers from “onerous” regulations, the bill passed by a vote of 253 to 170, with Republicans voting 218 to 11 in favor of the bill.

Curiously, a Tiahrt campaign press release refers to proposed regulations known as Waters of the US (WOTUS). But H.R. 4923, the bill whose vote Tiahrt criticized Pomepo for missing, did not affect these proposed rules.

Voice for Liberty radio logo for featured posts 01

Voice for Liberty Radio: Kansas Secretary of State Candidates

Voice for Liberty Radio 150x150In this episode of Voice for Liberty Radio: Candidates for Republican party nomination for Kansas Secretary of State spoke at the Wichita Pachyderm Club on July 18, 2014. The candidates are incumbent Kris Kobach and challenger Scott Morgan. The issue of voting, particularly the requirement for proof of citizenship when registering to vote, is an issue that separates the two candidates.

The format of the meeting was an opening statement by each candidate followed by questions from the audience and a brief closing statement.

I asked a question about whether the state’s chief election officer should have a political action committee that engages in electioneering. Kobach replied that this practice is legal, which it is. As to its propriety, Kobach said that statewide officials frequently endorse candidates. Morgan said it is not ethical or appropriate for the secretary of state to have a political action committee. As to Kobach’s argument that since other statewide officials are able to endorse candidates, that means the secretary of state should also, there is a distinguishing factor: Those other officials aren’t in charge of administering Kansas elections.

Shownotes

Kris Kobach campaign website
Scott Morgan campaign website
Wichita Pachyderm Club

Roberts, ducking debates, disrespects Kansas voters

With the decision of United States Senator Pat Roberts to skip debates with his opponents, Kansans are deprived of a useful part of the political process.

Election campaigns are an essential element of representative democracy. Campaigns are simultaneously a means for those who seek elective office to connect with voters and a way for citizens to learn about the candidates who are seeking their votes. Political campaign debates are an integral component of the modern political campaign. … Voters have come to expect election debates, particularly in the race for the president of the United States but increasingly for other elective offices as well. (Political Election Debates: Informing Voters about Policy and Character, William L. Benoit)

With the decision of United States Senator Pat Roberts to skip debates with his opponents, Kansans are deprived of a useful part of the political process.

This decision makes sense on only one level, that being the preservation and promotion of Pat Roberts’ political career. Evidently he and his political advisers have decided that he can win the primary election without the candidate participating in one or more debates.

But Roberts’ career and his electoral prospects are not relevant public policy.

That Roberts won’t debate is rich in irony. In his reporting of Roberts’ decision to skip debates with his main opponent Dr. Milton Wolf, Steve Krake wrote “Roberts is a Marine who portrays himself as willing to stand up to anybody. But he won’t stand up to Wolf, whose feisty, upstart campaign has given the incumbent headaches from the start.” (Steve Kraske: Sen. Pat Roberts won’t debate Milton Wolf)

Another element of irony is that the United States Senate is often described using phrases like “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” partly due to its tradition of allowing unlimited, or lengthy, debate. Roberts has served in that body for nearly 18 years and wants another term.

It’s also curious that Roberts would turn down debate opportunities. He has a reputation as a quick wit when speaking.

Even more curious, when you engage the Roberts campaign on inconsequential issues — such as whether campaign manager Leroy Towns lives in Kansas or North Carolina — you’ll get a quick response.

But ask a substantive question using the same communication channel, and there’s no answer. An example question is whether the senator will support the authorization of the Export-Import bank. That’s an important issue, one which the senator dodges, and about which he might be asked in a debate.

Debates are probably stressful events for most candidates, I’m sure. That’s part of their value. Put the candidates in front of a skeptical and inquisitive audience (the debate moderators) and a critical audience (the debate opponent), and see what happens when candidates are stressed a bit.

Speaking of stress: Roberts has made the ability of a senator to stand up to stress a campaign issue. In a profile this week in the Kansas City Star, Roberts criticized an incident from his opponent’s past, saying “Send him to Washington and see how stressed he gets.”

Roberts’ decision to skip a useful ritual of American politics may lessen his stress level and advance his personal political career. But it disrespects Kansas voters.

In Kansas fourth district campaign, PAC contributions are an issue

Candidate Todd Tiahrt criticizes Mike Pompeo for accepting PAC money as campaign contributions, but over his career Tiahrt has accepted PAC dollars in greater proportion than has Pompeo.

In a press release and on the campaign trail, candidate for the Republican Party nomination for United States Congress from the fourth district of Kansas Todd Tiahrt has criticized Mike Pompeo for his acceptance of PAC, or political action committee, campaign contributions. An example from a June 19 press release reads “PAC Man Pompeo’s special interest money means special interest legislation.”

Analysis of source of campaign funds for Todd Tiahrt, career starting in 2000 to present. Center for Responsive Politics, July 12, 2014.
Analysis of source of campaign funds for Todd Tiahrt, career starting in 2000 to present. Center for Responsive Politics, July 12, 2014.

Later in the same release: “So, was Mr. Pompeo representing Kansans or his PAC supporters?”

So if Tiahrt is criticizing a candidate for accepting campaign contributions from political action committees, voters may want to know the entire story. As it turns out, the story is easy to learn.

Analysis of source of campaign funds for Mike Pompeo, career to present. Center for Responsive Politics, July 12, 2014.
Analysis of source of campaign funds for Mike Pompeo, career to present. Center for Responsive Politics, July 12, 2014.

The Center for Responsive Politics has summarized campaign contribution data back to the year 2000. According to its summary, 33 percent of campaign contributions to Tiahrt since then were from PACs.

For Pompeo, over his career as a candidate, the figure is 32 percent of campaign contributions from PACs.

Todd Tiahrt television advertisement.

Did Rep. Mike Pompeo vote to fund Obamacare?

A television ad by Todd Tiahrt claims that Mike Pompeo voted seven times to fund Obamacare. What are the facts about those bills?

Todd Tiahrt television advertisement.
Todd Tiahrt television advertisement.
The seven bills referenced in the Tiahrt ad are appropriations bills that fund numerous departments and agencies of the federal government. Three of the bills were to fund the operations of government for as little as one week. One bill was 475 pages in length. Most passed with broad support of Republicans, including the Kansas delegation. Some reduced funding that had been authorized by the previous Congress.

Somewhere deep within these bills there may be funding that went to the Department of Health and Human Services that in some way provided funds for the implementation of Obamacare. The first three votes were short-term measures to continue appropriations established by the previous Congress. Tiahrt voted with a minority of Republicans to support that bill in its original form, then voted along with all Republicans except one against the passage of the conference report.

As to whether voting for these bills constitutes voting “to fund Obamacare,” the Pompeo campaign manager told the Wichita Eagle: “This type of flawed logic would drive someone to believe that Mr. Tiahrt voted eight times for Planned Parenthood funding for federal funding of abortions — which would be grossly misleading.”

The Eagle further reported: “Pompeo’s campaign provided a list of those eight bills. A fact-check found Tiahrt did vote ‘yes’ on the bills. But those bills were also general appropriation measures for departments that dealt with family planning.”

Here are the bills referenced in the Tiahrt television advertisement.

H.J.Res. 44 (112th) votesH.J.Res. 44 (112th): Further Continuing Appropriations Amendments, 2011. This bill provided appropriations for several dozen federal agencies. It passed 335 to 91. Republicans voted 231 to 6 in favor. All Kansans voted in favor. The Hill described this bill as a “two-week spending resolution … to support a measure aimed at averting a government shutdown this week.” (GOP spending bill passes in landslide as 100 Dems defect)

H.J.Res. 48 (112th) votesH.J.Res. 48 (112th): Additional Continuing Appropriations Amendments, 2011. This bill provided appropriations for a number of federal agencies. It also eliminated specific spending that was approved in 2010. It passed 271 to 158. Republicans voted 186 to 54 in favor. All Kansans except Huelskamp voted in favor. The Hill described this bill as a “three-week spending resolution.” (House adjourns, likely until late March)

H.R. 1363 (112th) votesH.R. 1363 (112th): Further Additional Continuing Appropriations Amendments, 2011. As described by the Congressional Research Service, the bill “Provides reduced rates of operation for FY2011 for the following accounts or activities within the Department of Transportation (DOT).” It also provided funds at reduced rates of operation for FY2011 for some accounts within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It also appears to have eliminated some earmarks passed by an earlier Congress. This bill passed 247 to 181. Republicans voted 232 to 6 in favor. All Kansans voted in favor. Of this bill, The Hill reported it was “a bill that would fund the federal government for another week.” (House adopts rule for one-week budget stopgap)

H.R. 1473 (112th) votesH.R. 1473 (112th): Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011. This is a large bill at 175 pages in length. The summary from the Congressional Research Service runs nearly 20,000 words. It passed 260 to 167. Republicans voted 179 to 59 in favor. All Kansans except Huelskamp voted in favor. This bill, voted on in April, was described by The Hill as “an agreement to fund the federal government for the rest of fiscal 2011.” The federal fiscal year ends on September 30.

H.R. 2055 (112th) on passage votesH.R. 2055 (112th) conference report votesH.R. 2055 (112th): Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012. At 486 pages, another large bill making appropriations for many agencies. On passage of the bill in the House, the vote was 411 to 5 in favor. The later vote on agreeing to the conference report passed 296 to 121. Republicans voted 147 to 86 in favor. All Kansans except Huelskamp voted in favor. The Hill reported this bill “covers spending for Defense, Energy and Water, Financial Services and General Government, Homeland Security, Interior, Labor/Health and Human Services, Legislative Branch, Military Construction/VA, and State/Foreign Operations.” (House approves $1 trillion omnibus spending bill in easy 296-121 vote)

H.J.Res. 117 (112th) votesH.J.Res. 117 (112th): Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2013. This bill provided appropriations for a number of federal agencies. It passed 329 to 91. Republicans voted 165 to 70 in favor. Kansans Huelskamp and Yoder voted against; Jenkins and Pompeo voted in favor. The Hill described this bill as a “six-month spending resolution to keep the government funded.” (Senate passes resolution to keep government funded)

H.R. 933 (113th) votesH.R. 933 (113th): Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013. A 240 page bill that provides appropriates to many federal agencies. The House agreed to the conference report by a vote of 318 to 109. Republicans voted 203 to 27 in favor. All Kansans except Huelskamp voted in favor.

Quasi-lobbyist runs as earmarker in Kansas GOP primary

Quasi-lobbyist runs as earmarker in Kansas GOP primary

Washington Examiner writer Tim Carney notices the curious stance of a Republican candidate in the Kansas fourth district primary: He likes earmarks.

Washington Examiner senior political columnist Timothy P. Carney knows how Washington works. Of his 2006 book The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money, Paul A. Gigot, who is Editorial Page Editor of the Wall Street Journal wrote “Politicians like to say that government is on the side of the little guy. But with impressive documentation and persuasive examples, Tim Carney shows how government power and regulation are typically used to assist the powerful.”

On the contest in the Kansas fourth district between Mike Pompeo and Todd Tiahrt, Carney observed “Kansas’s 4th District features one of the oddest fights yet of the counter-Tea Party effort: a quasi-lobbyist running running on a pro-earmark platform.”

Quasi-lobbyist runs as earmarker in Kansas GOP primaryCarney isn’t the first to notice the pro-earmark stance of Tiahrt. It’s not a secret, as the candidate himself speaks in favor of earmarks. His voting record reflects his support. In 2007 Club for Growth, whose motto is “Prosperity and Opportunity through Economic Freedom,” compiled a list of 50 votes that canceled what it called wasteful earmarks, explaining as follows:

The Club for Growth has compiled a RePORK Card of all members’ votes on all 50 anti-pork amendments. “Taxpayers have a right to know which congressmen stand up for them and which stand up for the special interests,” said Club for Growth President Pat Toomey. “Unfortunately, the Club for Growth RePORK Card shows that most congressmen care more about lining their buddies’ pockets than they care about protecting American taxpayers.”

Analyzing the results, Club for Growth noted that 16 members voted for all these amendments. These members were all Republicans. The average Republican score was 43%. The average Democratic score was 2%. The average score for appropriators — these are members of the Committee on Appropriations like Tiahrt — was 4%.

Where was Todd Tiahrt on this list? Tied for last place at 0%. He voted for none of these amendments that would have blocked earmark spending. Of the group that Tiahrt voted with, Club for Growth noted “105 congressmen scored an embarrassing 0%, voting against every single amendment. The Pork Hall of Shame includes 81 Democrats and 24 Republicans.”

Club for Growth created a similar tally in 2009, selecting 68 votes. That year, Tiahrt did better, voting for 20 of the 68 measures.

Quasi-lobbyist runs as earmarker in Kansas GOP primary

By Timothy P. Carney, Washington Examiner

Former Rep. Todd Tiahrt is a man on a mission — to reclaim the Republican Party for earmarkers.

Tiahrt represented Kansas’ 4th district for 16 years, and for 14 of those years he sat on the House Appropriations Committee. From that perch, Tiahrt was a prolific porker, dealing out earmarks as if they were playing cards.

Continue reading at Quasi-lobbyist runs as earmarker in Kansas GOP primary.

For Kansas’ Roberts, a shift in voting sentiment

Kansans should be happy that Senator Pat Roberts is voting in a fiscally conservative way. Happy, but skeptical.

Organizations like Club for Growth produce scorecards of legislators. The motto of Club for Growth is “Prosperity and Opportunity through Economic Freedom.” It supports candidates who believe in pro-growth policies, limited government, low taxes, and economic freedom. Kansans who believe in these values can trust Club for Growth as a reliable indicator of candidates’ beliefs and actions.

The Club for Growth creates voting scorecards. These scorecards are a selection of votes that the organization believes distinguish between those who support the club’s pro-growth goals, and those who don’t. Scorecards like this are valuable because they show what officeholders have actually done, which may be different from what they say they have done, or what they promise to do.

Kansans should be happy that its senior senator Pat Roberts has been voting largely in alignment with these policies that promote growth and economic freedom. These votes are good for Kansas, and good for America.

But it hasn’t always been this way for Roberts, and we don’t know what the future holds. If reelected, Roberts could return to his usual voting habits.

The voting record of Pat Roberts and a group of peers, from Club for Growth. Click for larger version.
The voting record of Pat Roberts and a group of peers, from Club for Growth. Click for larger version.
There’s little doubt that Roberts is voting in a way divergent from his past. Even the New York Times noticed a shift in Roberts’ voting as an election approaches, recently reporting “And Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, eyeing his state’s sharp turn to the right, made sure to align his votes with the fiscally conservative Club for Growth 84 percent of the time last year.”

I’ve gathered scorecard results from Club for Growth for all years available. In the nearby chart, I present the scores for Roberts. I also present the average scores for a group of Republican senators that are often criticized for straying from fiscally conservative policies. This group includes Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Richard Lugar of Indiana, John McCain of Arizona, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and Roberts.

As you can see, Roberts tracks this groups of senators fairly closely. Some years Roberts voted more in alignment with the goals of Club for Growth, and some years less. But in 2013, as the New York Times noticed, Roberts departed quite a bit from this pack of of Republicans.

So Kansans and all Americans should be pleased that Pat Roberts has been voting for limited government and economic freedom. But it’s out of character for him, and the election-year timing can’t be ignored as a motivating factor. What will Roberts do when an election is not near?


Scorecards such as these and others, including the ones that I’ve personally constructed, have caveats. For example, some members have not been in office very long. Issues in which you have an interest may not have been voted on during the member of interest’s tenure. Or, the vote may not have been a recorded vote, which is common. Also, the mere fact of a vote for or against a bill does not measure or account for leadership on the issue, or intensity of interest and involvement. I’ve not seen scorecards that incorporate the work performed and votes made in committees, which is an important part of legislating. Further, the selection of votes to be included is an issue. Organizations that create scorecards generally have issues that are important to them, and may focus on a subset of issues to the exclusion of all others.

WichitaLiberty.TV July 2, 2014

WichitaLiberty.TV: Water, waste, signs, gaps, economic development, jobs, cronyism, and water again.

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A look at a variety of topics, including an upcoming educational event concerning water in Wichita, more wasteful spending by the city, yard signs during election season, problems with economic development and cronyism in Wichita, and water again. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 50, broadcast July 6, 2014.

Club for Growth PAC Endorses Mike Pompeo For Congress

From Club for Growth, whose motto is “Prosperity and Opportunity through Economic Freedom.”

Club for Growth PAC Endorses Mike Pompeo For Congress

Club for Growth President Chris Chocola: “Mike stands on principle to do what’s right for Kansas and America.”

May 29, 2014
Washington, DC — The Club for Growth PAC announced today that it is endorsing Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo for re-election. Congressman Pompeo represents Kansas’s Fourth Congressional District. Former Congressman Todd Tiahrt has announced that he is challenging Congressman Pompeo in the Republican primary.

“Congressman Mike Pompeo is a taxpayer hero with a 90% on the Club for Growth’s congressional scorecard and we hope he is re-nominated by Kansas Republicans,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. “Mike stands on principle to do what’s right for Kansas and America. He’ll never stop fighting the Obama agenda in Washington.”

“Former Congressman Todd Tiahrt, on the other hand, has a liberal voting record that pales in comparison to Mike Pompeo. Congressman Tiahrt was one of the biggest spenders in the Republican Party when he served in Congress,” continued Chocola. “He voted to spend millions on an Exploratorium in San Francisco, a Lobster Institute in Maine, and even to spend millions on a building named after liberal New York Congressman Charlie Rangel. If that wasn’t bad enough, he voted for Obama’s wasteful ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program and to raise his own pay five times. Now that he’s decided to run for Congress, the Club’s PAC will do everything it can to make sure voters in Kansas learn the truth about Todd Tiahrt and his liberal record.”

Kansas political signs are okay, despite covenants

Kansas law overrides neighborhood covenants that prohibit political yard signs before elections.

Some neighborhoods have restrictive covenants that prohibit homeowners from placing any signs in their yard except signs advertising homes for sale. But a 2008 Kansas law overrides these restrictive covenants to allow for the placement of small political yard signs starting 45 days before an election. Still, residents of covenant neighborhoods may want to observe their neighborhood’s restrictions.

For the August 5, 2014 primary election, the 45 day period in which signs are allowed started on June 21. (Although I could be off by a day. Sometimes lawyers count days in strange ways.)

The bill was the product of then-Senator Phil Journey of Haysville. The bill passed unanimously in both the Kansas House and Senate.

According to the First Amendment Center, some 50 million people live in neighborhoods with homeowners associations. And laws like the 2008 Kansas law are not without controversy, despite the unanimous vote in the Kansas Legislature.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that governmental entities like cities can’t stop homeowners from displaying political yard signs, a homeowners association is not a government. Instead, it is a group that people voluntarily enter. Generally, when prospective homeowners purchase a home in a neighborhood with restrictive covenants, they are asked to sign a document pledging to comply with the provisions in the covenants. If those covenants prohibit political yard signs, but a Kansas law says these covenants do not apply, what should a homeowner do? Should state law trump private contracts in cases like this?

Practically: Should you display signs in your yard?

While Kansas law makes it legal for those living in communities with covenants that prohibit political yard signs, residents may want to observe these convents. Here’s why: If neighbors are not aware of this new Kansas law and therefore wrongfully believe that the yard signs are not allowed in your neighborhood, they may think residents with signs in their yards are violating the covenants. By extension, this could reflect poorly on the candidates that are being promoted.

Those who are not aware of the law allowing yard signs are uninformed. Or, they may be aware of the law but disagree with it and wish their neighbors would not display political yard signs. These people, of course, may vote and influence others how to vote. Whether to display yard signs in a covenant neighborhood is a judgment that each person will have to make for themselves.

The Kansas statute

K.S.A. 58-3820. Restrictive covenants; political yard signs; limitations. (a) On and after the effective date of this act, any provision of a restrictive covenant which prohibits the display of political yard signs, which are less than six square feet, during a period commencing 45 days before an election and ending two days after the election is hereby declared to be against public policy and such provision shall be void and unenforceable.

(b) The provisions of this section shall apply to any restrictive covenant in existence on the effective date of this act.

Or, as described in the 2008 Summary of Legislation: “The bill invalidates any provision of a restrictive covenant prohibiting the display of political yard signs, which are less than six square feet, 45 days before an election or two days after the election.”

In Kansas fourth district, charges of alignment with Speaker

Charges made on the campaign trail by Todd Tiahrt that his opponent is “Boehner’s boy” aren’t supported by Mike Pompeo’s voting record.

At a recent event in Wichita candidate for the Republican Party nomination for U.S. Congress for the Kansas fourth district Todd Tiahrt spoke about his opponent, incumbent Mike Pompeo. Tiahrt told the audience: “Now, Mr. Pompeo was also tied very closely to John Boehner. In fact he’s the only congressman in Washington D.C. that’s been appointed to two select committees. No other Member of Congress has been. But Boehner’s boy has.”

This criticism is meant to appeal to conservatives, many who believe Speaker of the House John Boehner is not conservative, at least on some issues. By linking Pompeo to the Speaker, Tiahrt suggests that Pompeo is not conservative.

There could be a variety of ways to judge how closely linked two politicians may be. One way would be through their voting record, and someone has done that.

Mike Pompeo illustration from The Fix’s complete guide to understanding House RepublicansLast July writers for the Washington Post looked at what they called “fault lines within the House Republican conference.” The group selected six votes that they thought illustrated where the fault lines cut. They concluded there are five “relatively well-defined factions among House Republicans” based on how regularly members vote in concert with leadership — namely, Speaker John Boehner. (See The Fix’s complete guide to understanding House Republicans.)

You might think that someone who is “Boehner’s boy” — that’s the charge leveled against Pompeo by Tiahrt — would be in the group the Post writers called “the Boehner base.” Or maybe the group next to that.

But Mike Pompeo’s votes placed him in a group far away from the Boehner base. Not the group farthest away, but the group next to farthest away.

A referendum on earmarks

From The Weekly Standard, analysis of the primary contest in Kansas district 4, where Mike Pompeo and Todd Tiahrt are candidates.

United States Capitol, July 2011

Arguments for and against term limits

From RestartCongress.org.

Arguments for term limits

  • With term limits in place, Congress will be more responsible toward their constituents because they will soon be constituents themselves. They will have to live under the laws they have created while in office.
  • Members of Congress will have less time in office to develop financially beneficial commitments to lobbyists and other special interest groups, thereby undermining the threat of lobbyists being a primary influence on legislation.
  • Since the time of the Founding Fathers, a general consensus states that people, when given power, will eventually be corrupted by it. If Congress has term limits in place, their power will also be limited. Candidates will be more likely to run for the purpose of serving the people, and they would have to leave office before corruption dominates their decisions.
  • Congress is heavily entrenched in partisan politics, resulting in gridlock when trying to pass any legislation. If term limits were enacted, toeing the party line would be less important, as the need for re-election and holding onto party seats would no longer be the driving force behind most legislative decisions. Congress would have an easier time passing the legislation that would make a positive difference for the nation.
  • Money is a major factor in who will win an election. Incumbents have the benefit of the profits they made while in power — plus the backing of their party, contributing organizations and special interests — to get re-elected. However, these wealthy incumbents are often not the best person for the job, as they are so far-removed from the daily realities of the American people. A middle class person who better understands the problems facing the average citizen is highly unlikely to get elected over a wealthy incumbent. Term limits will help to eliminate the shady, profitable relationships between members of Congress and special interest groups, and therefore reduce the wealth gap between candidates. In turn, more qualified people will have a real opportunity to win elections.
  • Within Congress, most legislation is written by a committee that handles a specific duty or topic. Committee appointments can be very prized positions for the power, influence and financial backing that can be attained. These positions are often assigned based on political favors and a willingness to support causes or projects. Therefore, career politicians who have formed the most self-serving relationships can often be given the most power in Congress. Term limits would work to stop this cycle of political reward and power abuse. Committee assignments would be determined by merit and expertise, resulting in fair and informed decisions.

The arguments against term limits

Career politicians should be valued for their experience. If we regularly fill a Congressional office with a newcomer, we will lose the valuable experience on-the-job that person can offer in government.

  • On occasion, there may be a member of Congress that has fought for his constituents and resisted the corrupt system of power abuse that is considered normal on Capitol Hill. The Founding Fathers discussed the need for a “rotation of office.” When one’s terms are up in one office, that politician can run for another office (such as a member of the House running for Senator, Governor, etc.) and put their experience to use in other helpful ways.
  • The notion that only one person — the incumbent — can do the job well is absurd. Problematically, we continue to elect the incumbent because of name recognition and party affiliation rather than a proven track record. Realistically, there is usually someone just as qualified to take over the incumbent’s office.

Term limits are not necessary because members of Congress must be regularly re-elected. If they are not doing a good job in office, we can simply vote for someone else.

  • While this would happen in an ideal world, historically the incumbent is re-elected 90% of the time. The playing field is simply not level between incumbents and challenging candidates because of the ability to raise money. In 2010, the average incumbent in the House raised around $1.4 million, while the challengers averaged $166,000. In the same year, Senate incumbents averaged $9.4 million for each campaign, while challengers raised $519,000. With that incredible discrepancy, it is no surprise that the incumbent usually prevails. If a member of Congress is limited to one or two terms, the party itself and other major donors would not invest nearly as much in an incumbent, giving challengers a better chance of winning the race.

Term limits would give more power to bureaucrats and lobbyists.

  • This argument is based in the notion that incoming legislators will be entirely unqualified for their jobs and will be easily led astray by staff, bureaucrats, special interests, etc. The way the system works today suggests that the real problem is in longevity of office and the complacency that can come along with it. For instance, lobbyists invest heavily in long-term relationships with sitting legislators. Congress members currently shirk many responsibilities by delegating them to bureaucratic agencies.
  • Term limits have the potential to greatly reduce these problems. When more Congressional races are won by challengers from outside the Beltway, this change is likely to bring new staffers with new ideas into Washington, rather than recycling the same old corrupt insiders.

Term limits are unconstitutional.

  • Clearly this is not the case, as the President of the United States is limited to two terms because of a Constitutional Amendment. A 28th Amendment would be necessary to impose term limits for Congress, and that is precisely what we are seeking. Since Congress will not willingly do so on their own, it is imperative that Americans make their voice heard on this issue.

For Senator Roberts, a few questions regarding ethics

When candidate for United States Senator from Kansas Milton Wolf posted medical images that some thought were unethical, the establishment political class was worked up over this perceived indiscretion.

Example from a Senator Pat Roberts campaign website. I've obscured the portions that Roberts says are offensive. The website shows the original image.
Example from a Senator Pat Roberts campaign website. I’ve obscured the portions that Roberts says are offensive. The website shows the original image.
Now the initial hubbub has died down. Except, on a website produced by the Pat Roberts campaign. Not only produced, but promoted so that when you Google “milton wolf” you’ll be presented with a paid advertisement directing your attention to this site. That site prominently features and takes delight in presenting these perceived indiscretions for which Dr. Wolf has accepted responsibility for and apologized.

But there are a few questions that Kansas voters should ask of the senator and his campaign, such as:

Example from a Senator Pat Roberts campaign website. I've obscured the portions that Roberts says are offensive. The website shows the original.
Example from a Senator Pat Roberts campaign website. I’ve obscured the portions that Roberts says are offensive. The website shows the original.
Senator Roberts, if it’s true that what Dr. Wolf posted was out-of-bounds or unethical, why is it acceptable for your campaign to post the same images and words for political gain? In my illustrations I’ve pixelated the images that you contend are unethical. But why do you post the original images?

Also: Why was it allowable for the Topeka Capital-Journal to post the images and quotes, if, as is contended, their use outside the doctor-patient relationship is unethical?

The website with the purportedly offensive images is a product of the Senator Pat Roberts campaign.
The website with the purportedly offensive images is a product of the Senator Pat Roberts campaign.
And: Senator Roberts, if their use is unethical, as your campaign contends, why does your campaign continuously call attention to them? Why does your campaign pay for advertising to promote their visibility?

Leroy Towns tweet on Pat Roberts voting record from FreedomWorks 2014-05-22

For Kansas’ Roberts, an election year conversion?

A group of like-minded Republican senators has apparently lost a member. Is the conservative voting streak by Pat Roberts an election year conversion, or just a passing fad?

The campaign manager for United States Senator Pat Roberts has touted on Twitter the candidate’s perfect record on FreedomWorks scorecards for 2014:

FreedomWorks — whose motto is “Government fails. Freedom works.” — describes itself like this:

We are over 6 million Americans who are passionate about promoting free markets and individual liberty. Our members all share three common traits: a desire for less government, lower taxes, and more economic freedom.

For over a quarter century, FreedomWorks has identified, educated, and actuated citizens who are enthused about showing up to support free enterprise and constitutionally limited government.

So it’s good that Sen. Roberts is voting in favor of the goals of FreedomWorks. Economic freedom, free enterprise, and limited government are goals we need to work towards.

Voting record for several U.S. Senators, from FreedomWorks. Click for larger version.
Voting record for several U.S. Senators, from FreedomWorks. Click for larger version.
But: Until the last two years, Roberts’ score on the FreedomWorks scorecard followed the pattern of a group of well-known Republican senators: Thad Cochran, Lindsey Graham, Richard Lugar, Mitch McConnell, and John McCain. In some years this group voted well according to FreedomWorks’ criteria, but in many years their voting record was poor.

But this group of like-minded GOP senators has a renegade member. For 2013 and 2014 Pat Roberts’ score is markedly higher than the other members of this group. Roberts announced his intent to run for reelection in January 2013.

On the chart I’ve included records for Jim DeMint and Harry Reid to provide two examples of voting records that value — and disrespect — economic freedom, according to FreedomWorks.

Voting record for U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, from FreedomWorks. Click for larger version.
Voting record for U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, from FreedomWorks. Click for larger version.
Voters might want to consider who is the real Pat Roberts: The one that votes along with Mitch McConnell (even less supportive of economic freedom in some years)? Or the one that votes in favor of less government, lower taxes, and more economic freedom only when an election approaches?

You can investigate the FreedomWorks scorecards yourself. Click here to use the interactive visualization that plots senators individually, showing as many as you want. Click to add or remove senators.

Or, you may use the visualization that blends voting records on one chart.

WichitaLiberty.TV set 2014-03-03 1200

WichitaLiberty.TV: For whose benefit are elections, school employment, wind power, unions, unemployment

Wichita City HallIn this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The controversy over the timing of city and school board elections provides an insight into government. Then: Can a candidate for governor’s claims about Kansas school employment be believed? Wind power is expensive electricity, very expensive. A Wichita auto dealer pushes back against union protests. Finally, what is the real rate of unemployment in America? Episode 36, broadcast March 23, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Lashing out at Charles and David Koch, falsely

From The Patriot Post:

Democrats have escalated their attacks on Charles and David Koch, who donate a significant amount of their accumulated capital to conservative groups. The charge is led by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), who now routinely takes to the Senate floor to angrily denounce these two private citizens. “I’m not afraid of the Koch brothers,” he thundered. “None of us should be afraid of the Koch brothers. These two multi-billionaires may spend hundreds of millions of dollars rigging the political process for their own benefit. And they may believe that whoever has the most money gets the most free speech. But I will do whatever it takes to expose their campaign to rig the American political system to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.”

A Democrat ad also recently demonized the brothers, accusing them of having an agenda to “protect tax cuts for companies that ship our jobs overseas.” That was too much even for The Washington Post’s “fact checker,” Glenn Kessler, who gave the charge a full Four Pinocchios. Specifically, Kessler says, “The ad not only mischaracterizes an ordinary tax deduction as a special ‘tax cut’ but then it falsely asserts that ‘protecting’ this tax break is part of the Koch agenda. It turns out this claim is based on a tenuous link to an organization that never even took a position on the legislation in question.” The truth didn’t stop Reid from repeating the same “tax breaks” lie.

This attack campaign is a clear sign that Democrats are very worried about November, and they’re lashing out at anyone who’s bankrolling the opposition.

More at The Democrats’ Dishonest Koch Habit and Democrats claim the Koch brothers want to “protect tax cuts for companies that ship our jobs overseas.”

city-council-chambers-sign-800

Wichita City Council to consider entrenching power of special interest groups

city-council-chambers-sign-800On Tuesday the Wichita City Council will consider a resolution in support of the status quo for city elections. Which is to say, the council will likely express its support for special interest groups whose goals are in conflict with the wellbeing of the public.

The proposed resolution expresses support for retaining the present system in which city council and school board members are elected in non-partisan elections held in the spring. Candidates for all other offices (county commissioner, district court judge, district attorney, county clerk, county treasurer, register of deeds, sheriff, state representative, state senator, governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, insurance commissioner, state board of education member, president, U.S. senator, U.S. representative, etc.) compete in partisan elections held in August and November.

Yes, the proposed resolution is full of language supporting lofty ideals. It mentions local control, concern over low voter turnout, the complexity of making changes, partisan politics, and even the Hatch Act, whatever that is.

(The Hatch Act restricts the ability of federal executive branch employees and certain state and local government employees to participate in some political activities, such as running for office in partisan elections. Non-partisan elections — that’s okay. The city is concerned that this could “disqualify many local candidates and office holders.” As if anyone already working for government also should also be an officeholder, non-partisan election or not.)

Why should we be concerned? Why would the city council support the current system of spring elections? Doesn’t the city council always act in the best interests of the body politic?

Here’s the answer, quite simply: In the spring elections, voter turnout is low. This makes it easier for special interest groups to influence the election outcomes. These special interest groups are not your friends (unless you are a member of one of the special groups).

Voter turnout is low in spring elections. Really low. I’ve gathered statistics for elections in Sedgwick County, and these numbers show that voter turnout in spring elections is much lower than in fall elections. (For these statistics I count the August primary as part of the fall election cycle.) Since 2000, turnout for fall elections, both primary and general, has been 44 percent. Over the same period, spring elections turnout has been 18 percent.

Remarkably, a special Wichita citywide election in February 2012 with just one question on the ballot had voter turnout of 13.7 percent. One year earlier, in April 2011, the spring general election had four of six city council districts contested and a citywide mayoral election. Turnout was 12.8 percent. That’s less than the turnout for a single-question election on year later.

The problem of low voter participation in off-cycle elections is not limited to Sedgwick County or Kansas. In her paper “Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups,” Sarah F. Anzia writes “A well developed literature has shown that the timing of elections matters a great deal for voter turnout. … When cities and school districts hold elections at times other than state and national elections, voter turnout is far lower than when those elections are held at the same time as presidential or gubernatorial elections.”

In the same paper, Anzia explains that when voter participation is low, it opens the door for special interest groups to dominate the election: “When an election is separated from other elections that attract higher turnout, many eligible voters abstain, but interest group members that have a large stake in the election outcome turn out at high rates regardless of the increase in the cost of voting. Moreover, interest groups’ efforts to strategically mobilize supportive voters have a greater impact on election outcomes when overall turnout is low. Consequently, the electoral influence of interest groups is greater in off-cycle elections than in on-cycle elections. As a result, the policy made by officials elected in off-cycle elections should be more favorable to dominant interest groups than policy made by officials elected in on-cycle elections.” (Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups, Sarah F. Anzia, Stanford University, Journal of Politics, April 2011, Vol. 73 Issue 2, p 412-427, version online here.)

Moving the spring elections so they are held in conjunction with the fall state and national elections will help reduce the electoral power and influence of special interest groups.

An example of special interests influencing elections

In January 2013 candidates for Wichita City Council filed campaign finance reports covering calendar year 2012. That year was the ramp-up period for elections that were held in February and March 2013. Two filings in particular illustrate the need for campaign finance and election reform in Wichita and Kansas.

Two incumbents, both who had indicated their intent to run in the spring 2013 elections, received campaign contributions in 2012 from only two sources: A group of principals and executives of Key Construction, and another group associated with theater owner Bill Warren.

The incumbent candidates receiving these contributions are Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) and Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita).

Except for $1.57 in unitemized contributions to Clendenin, these two groups accounted for all contributions received by these two incumbents during an entire year. Those associated with Key Construction gave a total of $7,000. Williams received $4,000, and $3,000 went to Clendenin. Those associated with Warren gave $5,000, all to Clendenin.

You may be wondering: Do these two groups have an extraordinarily keen interest in Wichita city government that’s not shared by anyone else?

Yes they do, and it’s not benevolent. Both have benefited from the cronyism of the Wichita City Council, in particular members Williams and Clendenin. Both groups are symptomatic of the problem of special interests influencing low-turnout elections. See Campaign contributions show need for reform in Wichita for details.

Download (PDF, 76KB)

Voice for Liberty Radio: Milton Wolf

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150

In this episode of WichitaLiberty Radio: Dr. Milton Wolf is a candidate for United States Senate from Kansas and will face incumbent Pat Roberts in the August Republican primary election. We spoke by telephone on January 23, 2014. As Wolf is a physician, it should be no surprise that health care was a major topic. Also, he answers the question that’s on everyone’s mind: Jayhawks, Wildcats, or Shockers? This is podcast episode number 6, released on January 23, 2014.

Shownotes

Milton Wolf campaign website
Pat Roberts campaign website
Columns by Milton Wolf at Washington Times
Kansas Republican Party and convention information

Wichita campaign finance reform, and local elections in Kansas

WichitaLiberty.TV.09

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: An illustration of the need for campaign finance reform in Wichita and Kansas. A related issue is the need to change the timing of local elections in Kansas. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

In January 2013 candidates for Wichita City Council filed campaign finance reports, and the filings illustrate the need for campaign finance reform in Wichita and Kansas.

Two incumbents, both who have indicated their intent to run in the spring elections, received campaign contributions in 2012 from two sources: A group of principals and executives of Key Construction, and another group associated with theater owner Bill Warren.

The incumbent candidates receiving these contributions are Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) and Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita).

Except for $1.57 in unitemized contributions to Clendenin, these two groups accounted for all contributions received by these two incumbents. As the election grew nearer, other parties contributed to these candidates. But for one year, only two groups made contributions.

So do these two groups have an extraordinarily keen interest in Wichita city government that’s not shared by anyone else? Yes they do, and it’s not benevolent. Both have benefited from the cronyism of the Wichita City Council, in particular members Williams and Clendenin. We’ve covered the benefits these parties have received, such as overpriced no-bid contracts and interest-free loans made to prop up an earlier failing loan from taxpayers. We need laws in Wichita and Kansas like some states and cities have. These are generally called pay to play laws, and they can be very simple, such as elected officials can’t vote on matters that enrich their significant campaign contributors. It could be that easy. See Kansas needs pay-to-play laws for more.

Here’s something that seems inconsequential, but is really important: The timing of our city council and school board elections. Currently these are held in the spring of odd-numbered years. These elections are also non-partisan, meaning that candidates don’t run as members of a political party.

I was asked to testify before a committee of the Kansas Senate. In preparation, I did some research. I found that for elections in Sedgwick County, voter turnout in spring elections is much lower than in fall elections. Since 2000, turnout for fall elections, both primary and general, has been 44 percent. Over the same period, spring elections turnout has been 18 percent. Other research I found confirmed that this pattern is common across the country.

You may be asking: Is this a problem?

Political scientist Sarah Anzia has done the research. She wrote this in a research paper: “When an election is separated from other elections that attract higher turnout, many eligible voters abstain, but interest group members that have a large stake in the election outcome turn out at high rates regardless of the increase in the cost of voting. Moreover, interest groups’ efforts to strategically mobilize supportive voters have a greater impact on election outcomes when overall turnout is low. Consequently, the electoral influence of interest groups is greater in off-cycle elections than in on-cycle elections. As a result, the policy made by officials elected in off-cycle elections should be more favorable to dominant interest groups than policy made by officials elected in on-cycle elections.” For more on this issue, see Kansas spring elections should be moved.

Special interest groups benefit from these low-turnout spring elections. Do you remember the first story I reported on today, where campaign contributions for two Wichita city council members came from only two sources? That’s an illustration of special interest groups in action. It’s harmful to our city and its economy.

What happened to the bill I testified on? There was much opposition by cities and school boards and the special interest groups that benefit from these low-turnout, off-cycle elections. The bill went nowhere. I hope that it is revived this year for another attempt.

WichitaLiberty.TV January 5, 2014

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A look back at a few problematic issues regarding ethical government in Wichita in 2013. Topics include: Campaign contributions, the timing of city and school board elections, Mayor Carl Brewer’s integrity and threats, the need for campaign finance reform, the firing of a television news reporter, the apparently non-transparent way the city formulates policy, and the useless feedback systems the city relies on. Episode 26, broadcast January 5, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Kansas jobs: Who do we believe?

bownback-davis-logo-02

Earlier this week we saw that candidates for Kansas governor have released statements on recent job figures in Kansas. The news releases from Sam Brownback and Paul Davis appear to contain conflicting views of Kansas employment.

But we saw that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends. There’s the Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and there is also the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey. BLS explains: “These estimates differ because the surveys have distinct definitions of employment and distinct survey and estimation methods.”

cps-ces-jobs-compared-2013-12Both the Davis and Brownback campaign appear to cite the data correctly. So which is the better measure to use? Which gives the best indication of the performance of the Kansas economy in creating jobs?

Here’s something to consider. On the national level, a widely-watched number each month is the count of new jobs created. This number, which is universally considered to be important, comes from the CES survey. That’s the number that shows quite a bit of job growth in Kansas. But in order to belittle the Brownback effort, the Davis campaign cites the other data series.

So let’s be fair. The next time Davis and Democrats praise good job creation figures at the national level as evidence of the goodness of Barack Obama, let’s ask them to give the same credit to Sam Brownback.

Milton Wolf announces an announcement

It’s been rumored that he’s been thinking about it, and it now looks like Dr. Milton Wolf will join the race for the Republican Party nomination for United States Senate. The other declared candidate is the incumbent, Pat Roberts. At least I don’t think Wolf would have an event like you’re invited to (see below) just to say no, he’s not running.

Kansas Senate and staggered terms

Would staggered terms in the Kansas Senate make a difference?

Kansas Capitol

The tax debate in Kansas centers on a promise made to voters: That the sales tax increase will be allowed to expire this year, as current law specifies. Members of the House of Representatives seem to have a solemn grip on this promise, while senators are more willing to keep the current high sales tax rate in exchange for lowering other taxes (or something else).

With two-year terms, all 125 members of the House will face the electorate next year. None of the 40 senators will, as they have three years until their next election to their four-year terms.

Does the distance to the next election make a difference? Kansas is uncommon, but not unique, in that it has legislators that are elected to lengthy terms, but not in a staggered fashion. (See Ballotpedia, Length of terms of state senators.)

California, for example, has 40 senators like Kansas, but their terms are staggered so that half the positions are up for election every two years. But in Kansas, all 40 senate seats are elected at the same time.

So in Kansas next year, all House members are facing elections, while no Senators face the same scrutiny by voters.

Does that account for the difference in positions taken by the two chambers? In three years, when senators face voters, will this year be remembered?

Should Kansas change the senate so that terms are staggered? Yes, I think so. Let’s elect odd-numbered districts in one election cycle, and even-numbered the next. In 2014, one of these groups — half the senate seats — will be elected to two-year terms to get the stagger started. Flip a coin to see which group starts.

Wichitans have choices; perhaps not information

The Wichita Eagle publishes a voter guide before each election. While this is a useful civic service, readers of the newspaper might wonder what is the point of allowing candidates to make statements and claims without being held accountable.

Here are two examples of candidates responding to the question “Assess the city’s success in downtown revitalization so far. How do you see that role evolving in the future?”

Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) responded as follows:

The trend in downtown redevelopment is showing a definite payoff in private investment exceeding $250 million since 2009. People are moving downtown and more private developers are starting projects in the area all of the time. I think that the city will still need to play a role in assuring that infrastructure, especially public green spaces and strategically placed parking, is in place so that private development can be attracted.

Council Member Janet Miller (district 6, north central Wichita) answered this way:

Wichita adopted its Downtown Master Plan in 2010 following an 18-month process involving input from several thousand Wichitans. Since the plan’s adoption, there has been a growing confidence in downtown development, which has resulted in more than $150 million in private investment. The City’s role will be to continue to foster private investment supported by public infrastructure improvements where needed.

Both incumbent candidates claim a large investment in downtown Wichita. Although they didn’t make this claim in these answers, it’s usually claimed that the taxpayer investment in downtown pays off in the form of increased tax revenues. This is the cost-benefit analysis that the city relies on and uses to justify taxpayer investment in projects.

 Wichita Downtown Self-supporting Municipal Improvement District SSMID Assessed Valuation 2013-02 b

But evidence of a payoff for the taxpayer is hard to find. At the same time hundreds of millions in investment is claimed, the assessed value of property in downtown Wichita is declining.

We’re left to wonder whether readers of the Wichita Eagle are aware of the apparent contradiction between candidates’ claims and evidence from the real world.

On another issue, the influence of campaign contributions, readers of the Eagle will probably also be uninformed about candidates’ actions. In response to the question “How would you handle a vote on an issue involving a campaign contributor?” Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) supplied this answer:

No different than any other vote. I will vote for the best interest of the citizens Wichita and District III. I answer directly to the voters.

Williams answered the same question this way:

I would continue to handle it the way I always have. The city has good campaign finance laws that make sure no one individual or group can buy a council person’s vote. The law limits the contributions to a low enough amount that no one contribution can make or break a campaign. I treat each donation whether large or small the same and thank the community for their faith and support in what I do.

The candidates’ lofty claims of independence from campaign contributions are difficult to believe. There is simply too much money given, and the candidates’ actions are too suspect.

As an example, in 2012, these two candidates received campaign contributions from two sources: A group of principals and executives of Key Construction, and another group associated with theater owner Bill Warren. Except for $1.57 in unitemized contributions to Clendenin, these two groups accounted for all contributions received by these two incumbents.

Those associated with Key Construction gave a total of $7,000. Williams received $4,000, and $3,000 went to Clendenin.

Those associated with Warren gave $5,000, all to Clendenin.

The problem is that both of these groups have benefited from the cronyism of the Wichita City Council, in particular members Williams and Clendenin.

Here’s one example, perhaps the worst. In August 2011 the council voted to award Key Construction a no-bid contract to build the parking garage that is part of the Ambassador Hotel project, now known as Block One. The no-bid cost of the garage was to be $6 million, according to a letter of intent. Later the city decided to place the contract for competitive bid. Key Construction won the bidding, but for a price $1.3 million less.

Both Williams and Clendenin voted for this no-bid contract that was contrary to the interests of taxpayers. They didn’t vote for this reluctantly. They embraced it.

Last summer Williams and Clendenin, along with the rest of the council, participated in a decision to award the large contract for the construction of the new Wichita airport to Key Construction, despite the fact that Key was not the low bidder. The council was tasked to act in a quasi-judicial manner, to make decisions whether discretion was abused or whether laws were improperly applied.

Judges shouldn’t preside over decisions that hugely enrich their significant campaign contributors. No matter what the merits of the case, this is bad government.

Williams was also the beneficiary of campaign contributions immediately before a Methodist minister asked the city to approve over two million dollars in tax increment financing. In 2008, the Reverend Dr. Kevass J. Harding wanted to spruce up the Ken-Mar shopping center at 13th and Oliver, now known as Providence Square. Near the end of June, Kevass Harding and his wife contributed a total of $1,000, the maximum allowed by law, to the campaign of Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita). This was right before Harding appeared before the city council in July and August as an applicant for tax increment district financing (TIF).

These campaign contributions, made in the maximum amount allowable, were out of character for the Hardings. They had made very few contributions to political candidates, and they appear not to have made many since then.

But just before the Ken-Mar TIF district was to be considered for approval, the Hardings made large contributions to Williams, who is the council member representing Ken-Mar’s district. Harding would not explain why he made the contributions. Williams offered a vague and general explanation that had no substantive meaning.

By the way, this project, under Harding’s management, foundered until the city council offered a bailout. By then Harding had found new partners. No surprise these partners included Key Construction, Williams’ sole source of campaign funds in 2012.

Wichitans who rely on the Wichita Eagle for advice on voting won’t likely be aware of these facts regarding these candidates.

Kansas spring elections should be moved

Ballot box

Following is testimony I will deliver to the Senate Standing Committee on Ethics, Elections and Local Government as a proponent of SB 211: Elections; municipalities; primary and general elections; date change; partisan.

Thank you for allowing me to present testimony in favor of SB 211, which would move city and school board elections from the spring of odd-numbered years to the fall of even-numbered years to coincide with state and national elections.

I’ve gathered statistics for elections in Sedgwick County, and these numbers show that voter turnout in spring elections is much lower than in fall elections. (For these statistics I count the August primary as part of the fall election cycle.) Since 2000, turnout for fall elections, both primary and general, has been 44 percent. Over the same period, spring elections turnout has been 18 percent.

Remarkably, a special Wichita citywide election in February 2012 with just one question on the ballot had voter turnout of 13.7 percent. One year earlier, in April 2011, the spring general election had four of six city council districts contested and a citywide mayoral election. Turnout was 12.8 percent, less than for a single-question election.

The problem of low voter participation in off-cycle elections is not limited to Sedgwick County or Kansas. In her paper “Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups,” Sarah F. Anzia writes “A well developed literature has shown that the timing of elections matters a great deal for voter turnout. … When cities and school districts hold elections at times other than state and national elections, voter turnout is far lower than when those elections are held at the same time as presidential or gubernatorial elections.”

In the same paper, Anzia explains that when voter participation is low, it opens the door for special interest groups to dominate the election: “When an election is separated from other elections that attract higher turnout, many eligible voters abstain, but interest group members that have a large stake in the election outcome turn out at high rates regardless of the increase in the cost of voting. Moreover, interest groups’ efforts to strategically mobilize supportive voters have a greater impact on election outcomes when overall turnout is low. Consequently, the electoral influence of interest groups is greater in off-cycle elections than in on-cycle elections. As a result, the policy made by officials elected in off-cycle elections should be more favorable to dominant interest groups than policy made by officials elected in on-cycle elections.” (Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups, Sarah F. Anzia, Stanford University, Journal of Politics, April 2011, Vol. 73 Issue 2, p 412-427, version online here.)

I urge this committee to support moving the spring elections to be held in conjunction with the fall state and national elections. This will help reduce the electoral power and influence of special interest groups.

SB 211 Testimony by Bob Weeks March 13, 2013 by Bob Weeks

Dump truck carrying coins

Is graft a problem in Wichita?

Dump truck carrying coins

In his paper History and Constitutionality of Pay-to-Play Campaign Finance Restrictions in America Greg Schmid explains the problems that result from the “soft corruption” that pay-to-play laws combat.

Is this a problem in Wichita? Is it possible that “Graft takes the collective wealth of working taxpayers and transfers that wealth to the benefit of corrupt government officials and their private sector accomplices” in Wichita?

Yes. Absolutely. As explained in In Wichita, a quest for campaign finance reform, we have a problem.

An example: In August 2011 the Wichita City Council voted to award Key Construction a no-bid contract to build the parking garage that is part of the Ambassador Hotel project, now known as Block One. The no-bid cost of the garage was to be $6 million, according to a letter of intent. Later the city decided to place the contract for competitive bid. Key Construction won the bidding, but for a price $1.3 million less.

The no-bid contract for the garage was just one of many subsidies and grants given to Key Construction and Dave Burk as part of the Ambassador Hotel project. Both of these parties are heavy campaign contributors to nearly all city council members.

What citizens need to know is that the Wichita City Council was willing to spend an extra $1.3 million of taxpayer money to reward a politically-connected construction firm that makes heavy campaign contributions to council members. Only one council member, Michael O’Donnell, voted against this no-bid contract. No city bureaucrats expressed concern about this waste of taxpayer money.

As elections approach, Wichita voters ought to remember that the three incumbents running for reelection all accepted campaign contributions from the parties that they voted to reward with an overpriced no-bid construction contract.

Following, Greg Schmid explains the problem in this excerpt from History and Constitutionality of Pay-to-Play Campaign Finance Restrictions in America:

The Problem
Graft is nothing new in the world, especially soft “white collar” corruption involved in the award of government contracts based on “special relationships” between public officials and government contractors. Particular acts of corruption are often hard to detect, one at a time, but the aggregate effects of “Pay to Play” are reflected by the heavy financial toll that corrupted actors within our government system take on the taxpayer. Graft takes the collective wealth of working taxpayers and transfers that wealth to the benefitof corrupt government officials and their private sector accomplices. Graft increases the cost of government by motivating officials “on the take” to mismanage government project spending. An inside deal, that is good for the corrupt official personally, usually leads to a bad economic decision for the public because the extra cost of corruption must be passed on to the taxpayer; a bought politician tends to make distorted choices. This “mismanagement effect” is costly to the public trust. One dollar of corruption is estimated to impose a burden of $1.67 on the taxpayers. …

Efforts to make government transactions transparent are met with disdain and with incredulous personalized claims that people who don’t trust their public officials are just paranoid, and should not be allowed to interrupt the people’s business by prying into the inner workings of government procurements. Fear of being targeted for ridicule or worse by society’s powerful elite makes it easy to look the other way, live in denial, or just accept government corruption as the way of the world. This is the most dangerous attitude of all; the perception that our government system is just unethical and corrupt and that there is nothing anyone can do about it. By this attitude, the perception of pervasive corruption at all levels of government, citizens lose hope and lose faith in their governing institutions. When this fundamental disconnect occurs people disengage from government, and self-governance is at risk.

Kansas local office campaign finance reports

Kansas local office campaign finance report example

It’s hard to obtain and use local office campaign finance reports in Kansas. In Sedgwick County, for example, candidates for local offices file reports on paper with the county election office. These reports are scanned and made available online.

That sounds good. But the online system is very difficult to use. It’s hard to find the reports you want to view.

Until recently the system didn’t support modern browser programs like Firefox and Chrome. I kept a Windows virtual PC on hand and maintained with an old version of Windows and Internet Explorer for the sole purpose of using the document system at Sedgwick County.

It’s better now. You can use modern browser programs. But how many people will make the effort of creating a virtual PC so to obtain campaign finance data?

Then, the data you download or print is not machine readable. It’s images of text. It’s not searchable. It can’t be loaded into a spreadsheet or database, except by hand, or in some limited cases, through optical character recognition.

The campaign finance reports can’t be linked to like other documents that are online, like you can link to an agenda or the minutes of meetings.

The Johnson County election office didn’t do any better. There, the finance reports I looked at were available as multi-page TIFF files. These are difficult to work with. The software that most people have on their computers will show just the first page, probably.

We can do better.

As a start, I’ve created a collection of campaign finance reports from Sedgwick County. It’s not comprehensive. The documents are images as provided by the election office, meaning they’re not searchable and can’t be loaded into a spreadsheet or database.

But it’s something more than the government provides. Click here to see.

In Wichita, Jeff Longwell has the solution to cronyism

Wichita City Hall Sign

At a recent Wichita City Council meeting, Council Member Jeff Longwell (district 5, west and northwest Wichita) was critical of topics broached by two speakers, admonishing them to “take a different approach.”

The speakers had mentioned votes made and actions taken by the council and the appearance of influence or linkage to campaign contributions.

Longwell’s concern is understandable. As perhaps the most accomplished practitioner of cronyism on the council, he’s dished out millions in taxpayer subsidy to his significant campaign contributors. His acceptance of campaign contributions last summer from a Michigan construction company that had business before the council lifted cronyism to new heights.

After that, I thought that we wouldn’t ever see a more blatant instance of the appearance of impropriety. That is, until Mayor Carl Brewer started selling his barbeque sauce at a movie theater he’s voted to grant taxpayer subsidy to, several times.

These incidents are embarrassing for Wichita. So I can understand that Longwell doesn’t want them mentioned in public. I’m sure that’s what he would prefer.

That’s why it’s surprising that he would speak out at a council meeting. Why call additional attention to your bad behavior?

I think I know the answer: It is not possible to shame Longwell, Brewer, and most other council members. They believe their conduct is honest, forthright, and above reproach. They believe it is their critics who are harming the city’s reputation.

But in many cities, the routine practice of most Wichita City Council members would be a violation of the city’s ethics code, or even of city law. An example is from Westminster, Colorado. Its charter reads:

The acceptance or receipt by any Councillor or member of that Councillor’s immediate family, or an organization formed to support the candidacy of that Councillor, of any thing of value in excess of one-hundred dollars ($100) from any person, organization, or agent of such person or organization, shall create a conflict of interest with regard to that Councillor’s vote on any issue or matter coming before the Council involving a benefit to the contributing person, organization, or agent, unless such interests are merely incidental to an issue or question involving the common public good.

In commenting on this ordinance, CityEthics.org noted:

Westminster goes right to the heart of the matter — not the contribution itself, which is central to citizens’ expressions of their political preferences — but the effect of the other sort of contribution, the large contribution intended, possibly, not only to express a political preference (or not even, since often large contributions are given to both or all candidates by the same individual or entity), but also to influence the candidate.

If the contribution was not intended to influence the candidate, then the contributor won’t mind that the candidate cannot participate or vote on any matter dealing with the contributor’s interests. In addition, the candidate will not be placed in the position of appearing to favor someone who gave him or her a sizeable contribution or — and this is certainly possible if the candidate is truly independent — having to vote against a strong supporter. It’s a win-win situation for everyone, so long as there was no intent to influence.

In Wichita, we don’t have any laws or codes of ethics that prohibit or discourage what Westminster, Colorado does. We don’t even have many council members who think these are desirable.

Instead, the solution preferred by Wichita’s political class is to follow Jeff Longwell’s advice: Just don’t talk about it.

Troubling incidents involving Council Member Jeff Longwell

In August 2011 the council voted to award Key Construction a no-bid contract to build the parking garage that is part of the Ambassador Hotel project, now known as Block One. The no-bid cost of the garage was to be $6 million, according to a letter of intent. Later the city decided to place the contract for competitive bid. Key Construction won the bidding, but for a price $1.3 million less.

The no-bid contract for the garage was just one of many subsidies and grants given to Key Construction and Dave Burk as part of the Ambassador Hotel project. In Wichita city elections, individuals may contribute up to $500 to candidates, once during the primary election and again during the general election. As you can see in this table complied from Wichita City Council campaign finance reports, spouses often contribute as well. So it’s not uncommon to see the David and DJ Burk family contribute $2,000 to a candidate for their primary and general election campaigns. That’s a significant sum for a city council district election campaign cycle. Click here for a compilation of campaign contributions made by those associated with the Ambassador Hotel project.

Council Member Jeff Longwell (district 5, west and northwest Wichita), in his second term as council member, led the pack in accepting campaign contributions from parties associated with the Ambassador Hotel project. For his most recent election, he received $4,000 from parties associated with Key Construction, and $2,000 from David Burk and his wife. Total from parties associated with the Ambassador Hotel project: $6,000. When Longwell ran for Sedgwick County Commission this summer, these parties donated generously to that campaign, too.

What citizens need to know is that the Wichita City Council was willing to spend an extra $1.3 million of taxpayer money to reward a politically-connected construction firm that makes heavy campaign contributions to council members. Only one council member, Michael O’Donnell, voted against this no-bid contract. No city bureaucrats expressed concern about this waste of taxpayer money.

Then, last summer while Longwell was campaigning for the Sedgwick County Commission, campaign contributions from parties associated with Walbridge, a Michigan-based construction company appeared on Longwell’s campaign finance reports. Why would those in Michigan have an interest in helping a Wichita City Council member fund his campaign for a county office? Why should we in Wichita care if they do?

These contributions are of interest because on July 17, 2012, the Wichita City Council, sitting in a quasi-judicial capacity, made a decision in favor of Key and Walbridge that will cost some group of taxpayers or airport customers an extra $2.1 million. Five council members, including Longwell, voted in favor of this decision. Two members were opposed.

On July 16 — the day before the Wichita City Council heard the appeal that resulted in Key Construction apparently winning the airport contract — John Rakolta, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Walbridge and his wife contributed $1,000 to Longwell’s campaign for Sedgwick county commissioner.

Then on July 20, three days after the council’s decision in favor of Key/Walbridge, other Walbridge executives contributed $2,250 to Longwell’s campaign. Besides the Walbridge contributions, Key Construction and its executives contributed $6,500 to Longwell’s county commission campaign. Key and its executives have been heavy contributors to Longwell’s other campaigns, as well as to Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and many other Wichita City Council members.

When asked about the Michigan contributions, Longwell stated “We often get contributions from a wide variety of sources, including out-of-town people,” according to the Wichita Eagle.

But analysis of Longwell’s July 30, 2012 campaign finance report shows that the only contributions received from addresses outside Kansas are the Walbridge contributions from Michigan, which contradicts Longwell’s claim. Additionally, analysis of ten recent campaign finance reports filed by Longwell going back to 2007 found only three contributions totaling $1,500 from addresses outside Kansas.

Questioning Pat Roberts

One of the small news items emerging from the Kansas Republican Party Convention last weekend is that Pat Roberts will run for reelection to the U.S. Senate next year.

So is this a good thing, or not? Gidget of Kansas GOP Insider (wannabe) offers one opinion in her post on the topic:

Look, I like Sen. Roberts. He’s a nice enough guy, but he will not make any waves. He will not rock any boats. I do not understand it. Most 76 year olds are willing to wear purple suits and red hats in public as some sort of matter of pride. It’s their way of saying, I’ve lived long enough I’ll do as I damn well please.

But not Sen. Roberts.

Where every member of the Kansas delegation in the House voted against the plan to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff — there was Roberts being a “statesman” by raising your taxes without the agreement of any cuts.

This is a regularly repeated occurrence for those in the U.S. Senate. They are absolutely willing to sell the people down the river in return for being called “statesman” and getting re-elected.

The truly disgusting part is that we’re all going to vote for Sen. Roberts again.

If he draws a primary opponent, it will be a miracle. And even if he does draw a primary opponent, everyone will tip toe around for fear of upsetting Roberts and the many people who owe him their careers.

The Wall Street Journal noticed a vote made by Senator Roberts in committee that lead to the fiscal cliff bill. The newspaper explained the harm of this bill in its editorial:

The great joke here is that Washington pretends to want to pass “comprehensive tax reform,” even as each year it adds more tax giveaways that distort the tax code and keep tax rates higher than they have to be. Even as he praised the bill full of this stuff, Mr. Obama called Tuesday night for “further reforms to our tax code so that the wealthiest corporations and individuals can’t take advantage of loopholes and deductions that aren’t available to most Americans.”

One of Mr. Obama’s political gifts is that he can sound so plausible describing the opposite of his real intentions.

The costs of all this are far greater than the estimates conjured by the Joint Tax Committee. They include slower economic growth from misallocated capital, lower revenues for the Treasury and thus more pressure to raise rates on everyone, and greater public cynicism that government mainly serves the powerful.

Republicans who are looking for a new populist message have one waiting here, and they could start by repudiating the corporate welfare in this New Year disgrace.

The Journal took the rare measure of calling out the senators who voted for this bill in committee, as shown in its nearby graphic. There it is: Pat Roberts voting in concert with the likes of John Kerry, Chuck Schumer, and Debbie Stabenow.

If Tom Coburn of Oklahoma could vote against this bill in committee, then so could have Pat Roberts. But he didn’t.

Kansas judicial selection reform: Testimony

Kansas University School of Law Professor Stephen J. Ware is at the forefront of making the reasoned case as to why Kansas needs to reform the way it selects judges to its two highest courts. He recently testified on this matter before a committee of the Kansas Legislature.

The opening of his testimony makes the case for bringing democracy to Kansas judicial selection:

No one can become a justice on the Kansas Supreme Court without being one of the three finalists chosen by the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission. The Commission is the gatekeeper to the Kansas Supreme Court. However, the Commission is selected in a shockingly undemocratic way.

Most of the members of the Commission are picked in elections open to only about 10,000 people, the members of the state bar. The remaining 2.9 million people in Kansas have no vote in these elections.

This violates basic equality among citizens, the principle of one-person, one-vote. The current system concentrates tremendous power in one small group and treats everyone else like second-class citizens. In a democracy, a lawyer’s vote should not be worth more than any other citizen’s vote. As Washburn University School of Law professor Jeffrey Jackson wrote, democratic legitimacy “would appear to favor a reduction in the influence of the state bar and its members over the nominating commission, because they do not fit within the democratic process.”

Ware’s testimony was offered in support of SCR 1601. This measure would change the system so that judges on the Kansas Court of Appeals and Kansas Supreme Court are nominated by the governor and confirmed (or not) by the senate. Judges would stand for retention elections every six years, as they do now.

Ware recently appeared on the KAKE Television public affairs program This Week in Kansas. Video may be viewed at Kansas judicial selection: The need for reform.

Campaign contributions show need for reform in Wichita

Candidates for Wichita City Council have filed campaign finance reports, and the filings illustrate the need for campaign finance reform in Wichita and Kansas.

Two incumbents, both who have indicated their intent to run in the spring elections, received campaign contributions in 2012 from two sources: A group of principals and executives of Key Construction, and another group associated with theater owner Bill Warren.

The incumbent candidates receiving these contributions are Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) and Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita).

Except for $1.57 in unitemized contributions to Clendenin, these two groups accounted for all contributions received by these two incumbents.

Those associated with Key Construction gave a total of $7,000. Williams received $4,000, and $3,000 went to Clendenin.

Those associated with Warren gave $5,000, all to Clendenin.

So do these two groups have an extraordinarily keen interest in Wichita city government that’s not shared by anyone else?

Yes they do, and it’s not benevolent. Both have benefited from the cronyism of the Wichita City Council, in particular members Williams and Clendenin.

Here’s one example, perhaps the worst. In August 2011 the council voted to award Key Construction a no-bid contract to build the parking garage that is part of the Ambassador Hotel project, now known as Block One. The no-bid cost of the garage was to be $6 million, according to a letter of intent. Later the city decided to place the contract for competitive bid. Key Construction won the bidding, but for a price $1.3 million less.

Both Williams and Clendenin voted for this no-bid contract that was contrary to the interests of taxpayers. They didn’t vote for this reluctantly. They embraced it.

Last summer Williams and Clendenin, along with the rest of the council, participated in a decision to award the large contract for the construction of the new Wichita airport to Key Construction, despite the fact that Key was not the low bidder. The council was tasked to act in a quasi-judicial manner, to make decisions whether discretion was abused or whether laws were improperly applied.

Judges shouldn’t preside over decisions that hugely enrich their significant campaign contributors. No matter what the merits of the case, this is bad government.

Did Key’s political involvement and campaign contributions play a role in the council awarding the company a no-bid garage contract and the airport contract? Key Construction executives and their spouses are among a small group who routinely make maximum campaign contributions to candidates. These candidates are both liberal and conservative, which rebuts the presumption that these contributions are made for ideological reasons, that is, agreeing with the political positions of candidates. Instead, Key Construction and a few others are political entrepreneurs. They seek to please politicians and bureaucrats, and by doing so, receive no-bid contracts and other benefits. This form of cronyism is harmful to Wichita taxpayers, as shown by the Ambassador Hotel garage.

Warren and his business partners have received largess from the council, too. In 2008 (before Clendenin joined the council) the Wichita City Council approved a no- and low-interest loan to Bill Warren and his partners. Reported the Wichita Eagle: “Wichita taxpayers will give up as much as $1.2 million if the City Council approves a $6 million loan to bail out the troubled Old Town Warren Theatre this week. That’s because that $6 million, which would pay off the theater’s debt and make it the only fully digital movie theater in Kansas, would otherwise be invested and draw about 3 percent interest a year.”

Wichita’s need for campaign finance reform

The campaign finance reports of Williams and Clendenin reinforce and spotlight the need for campaign finance reform in Wichita and Kansas.

When it is apparent that a “pay-to-play” environment exists at Wichita City Hall, it creates a toxic and corrosive political and business environment. Companies are reluctant to expand into areas where they don’t have confidence in the integrity of local government. Will I find my company bidding against a company that made bigger campaign contributions than I did? If I don’t make the right campaign contributions, will I get my zoning approved? Will my building permits be slow-walked through the approval process? Will my projects face unwarranted and harsh inspections? Will my bids be subjected to microscopic scrutiny?

We need laws to prohibit Wichita city council members from voting on or advocating for decisions that enrich their significant campaign contributors. Citizens are working on this initiative on several fronts. Some find the actions of these candidates so distasteful and offensive that they are willing to take to the streets to gather thousands of signatures to force the Wichita City Council to act in a proper manner.

That huge effort shouldn’t be necessary. Why not? The politicians who accept these campaign contributions say it doesn’t affect their voting, and those who give the contributions say they don’t give to influence votes.

If politicians and contributors really mean what they say, there should be no opposition to such a “pay-to-play” law. Citizens should ask the Wichita City Council to pass a campaign finance reform ordinance that prohibits voting to enrich significant campaign contributors.

In Wichita, a quest for campaign finance reform

Actions of the Wichita City Council have shown that campaign finance reform is needed. Citizen groups are investigating how to accomplish this needed reform, since the council has not shown interest in reforming itself.

Consider recent actions by the council and its members:

The common thread running through these incidents? Council members voting to enrich their campaign contributors. Each of these — and there are others — are examples of a “pay-to-play” environment created at Wichita City Hall. It’s harmful to our city in a number of ways.

First, overpriced no-bid contracts and other giveaways to campaign contributors isn’t economic development. It’s cronyism. It’s wasteful and abusive of taxpayers and erodes their trust in government.

Second: Citizens become cynical when they feel there is a group of insiders who get whatever they want from city hall at the expense of taxpayers. At one time newspaper editorial pages crusaded against cronyism like this. But no longer in Wichita.

Additionally, when it is apparent that a “pay-to-play” environment exists at Wichita City Hall, it creates a toxic and corrosive political and business environment. Companies are reluctant to expand into areas where they don’t have confidence in the integrity of local government. Will I find my company bidding against a company that made bigger campaign contributions than I did? If I don’t make the right campaign contributions, will I get my zoning approved? Will my building permits be slow-walked through the approval process? Will my projects face unwarranted and harsh inspections? Will my bids be subjected to microscopic scrutiny?

We need laws to prohibit Wichita city council members from voting on or advocating for decisions that enrich their significant campaign contributors. A model law for Wichita is a charter provision of the city of Santa Ana, in Orange County, California, which states: “A councilmember shall not participate in, nor use his or her official position to influence, a decision of the City Council if it is reasonably foreseeable that the decision will have a material financial effect, apart from its effect on the public generally or a significant portion thereof, on a recent major campaign contributor.”

We’d also need to add — as does New Jersey law — provisions that contributions from a business owner’s spouse and children will be deemed to be from the business itself. Additionally the contributions of principals, partners, officers, and directors, and their spouses, are considered to be from the business itself for purposes of the law. These provisions are important, as many city council members in Wichita receive campaign contributions from business owners’ family members and employees as a way to skirt our relatively small contribution limits.

Such campaign finance reform would not prohibit anyone from donating as much as they want (under the current restrictions) to any candidate. Nor would the law prevent candidates from accepting campaign contributions from anyone.

This reform, however, would remove the linkage between significant contributions and voting to give money to the contributor. This would be a big step forward for Wichita, its government, and its citizens.

Proponents see three paths towards campaign finance reform. One would be to press for a law in the upcoming session of the Kansas Legislature. Such a law would be statewide in scope, and could apply to city councils, county commissions, school boards, and other elective bodies.

A second path would be to use the municipal initiative process, which was used by community water fluoridation advocates in Wichita this year. Under this process, a group writes a proposed ordinance. Then, it must collect about 6,200 valid signatures on petitions. If a successful petition is verified, the city council must either (a) pass the ordinance as written, or (b) set an election. For the fluoridation initiative the council voted to call an election, which was held as part of the November general election. (The initiative failed to obtain a majority of votes, so the proposed ordinance did not take effect.)

There is also a third path, which is for the Wichita City Council to recognize the desirability of campaign finance reform and pass such an ordinance on its own initiative.

If we take the affected parties at their word, this third path should face little resistance. That’s because politicians who accept these campaign contributions say it doesn’t affect their voting, and those who give the contributions say they don’t do it to influence votes.

If politicians and contributors really mean what they say, there should be no opposition to such a law. Citizens should ask the Wichita City Council to pass a campaign finance reform ordinance that prohibits voting to enrich significant campaign contributors.

Incidents

In 2008 the Wichita City Council approved a no- and low-interest loan to Bill Warren and his partners. Reported the Wichita Eagle: “Wichita taxpayers will give up as much as $1.2 million if the City Council approves a $6 million loan to bail out the troubled Old Town Warren Theatre this week. That’s because that $6 million, which would pay off the theater’s debt and make it the only fully digital movie theater in Kansas, would otherwise be invested and draw about 3 percent interest a year.”

When questioned about election donations:

“I would never do anything because of a campaign contribution,” said [former council member Sharon] Fearey, who received $500 from David Burk and $500 from David Wells.

“I don’t think $500 buys a vote,” said [former council member Sue] Schlapp.

“One has nothing to do with the other,” [Wichita Mayor Carl] Brewer said.

Also in 2008, the Reverend Dr. Kevass J. Harding wanted to spruce up the Ken-Mar shopping center at 13th and Oliver, now known as Providence Square. Near the end of June, Kevass Harding and his wife contributed a total of $1,000, the maximum allowed by law, to the campaign of Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita). This was right before Harding appeared before the city council in July and August as an applicant for tax increment district financing (TIF).

These campaign contributions, made in the maximum amount allowable, were out of character for the Hardings. They had made very few contributions to political candidates, and they appear not to have made many since then.

But just before the Ken-Mar TIF district was to be considered for approval, the Hardings made large contributions to Williams, who is the council member representing Ken-Mar’s district. Harding would not explain why he made the contributions. Williams offered a vague and general explanation that had no substantive meaning.

In August 2011 the council voted to award Key Construction a no-bid contract to build the parking garage that is part of the Ambassador Hotel project, now known as Block One. The no-bid cost of the garage was to be $6 million, according to a letter of intent. Later the city decided to place the contract for competitive bid. Key Construction won the bidding, but for a price $1.3 million less.

The no-bid contract for the garage was just one of many subsidies and grants given to Key Construction and Dave Burk as part of the Ambassador Hotel project. In Wichita city elections, individuals may contribute up to $500 to candidates, once during the primary election and again during the general election. As you can see in this table complied from Wichita City Council campaign finance reports, spouses often contribute as well. So it’s not uncommon to see the David and DJ Burk family contribute $2,000 to a candidate for their primary and general election campaigns. That’s a significant sum for a city council district election campaign cycle. Click here for a compilation of campaign contributions made by those associated with the Ambassador Hotel project.

Council Member Jeff Longwell (district 5, west and northwest Wichita), in his second term as council member, led the pack in accepting campaign contributions from parties associated with the Ambassador Hotel project. For his most recent election, he received $4,000 from parties associated with Key Construction, and $2,000 from David Burk and his wife. Total from parties associated with the Ambassador Hotel project: $6,000. When Longwell ran for Sedgwick County Commission this summer, these parties donated generously to that campaign, too.

Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) received $5,000 from parties associated with the Ambassador Hotel: $3,000 from parties associated with Key Construction, and $2,000 from David Burk and his wife.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer received $5,000 from parties associated with the Ambassador Hotel: $4,500 from parties associated with Key Construction, and $500 DJ Burk, David Burk’s wife.

Council Member and Vice Mayor Janet Miller (district 6, north central Wichita) received $3,500 during her 2009 election campaign from parties associated with the Ambassador Hotel: $1,500 from parties associated with Key Construction, and $2,000 from David Burk and his wife.

For his 2011 election campaign, Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) received $3,500 from parties associated with the Ambassador Hotel: $2,500 from parties associated with Key Construction, and $1,000 from David Burk and his wife.

For his 2011 election campaign, Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita) received $1,500 from parties associated with the Ambassador Hotel: $1,000 from parties associated with Key Construction, and $500 from David Burk and his wife.

What citizens need to know is that the Wichita City Council was willing to spend an extra $1.3 million of taxpayer money to reward a politically-connected construction firm that makes heavy campaign contributions to council members. Only one council member, Michael O’Donnell, voted against this no-bid contract. No city bureaucrats expressed concern about this waste of taxpayer money.

Finally: This summer while Longwell was campaigning for the Sedgwick County Commission, campaign contributions from parties associated with Walbridge, a Michigan-based construction company appeared on Longwell’s campaign finance reports. Why would those in Michigan have an interest in helping a Wichita City Council member fund his campaign for a county office? Would the fact that Walbridge is a partner with Key Construction on the new Wichita Airport terminal provide a clue?

These contributions are of interest because on July 17, 2012, the Wichita City Council, sitting in a quasi-judicial capacity, made a decision in favor of Key and Walbridge that will cost some group of taxpayers or airport customers an extra $2.1 million. Five council members, including Longwell, voted in favor of this decision. Two members were opposed.

On July 16 — the day before the Wichita City Council heard the appeal that resulted in Key Construction apparently winning the airport contract — John Rakolta, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Walbridge and his wife contributed $1,000 to Longwell’s campaign for Sedgwick county commissioner.

Then on July 20, three days after the council’s decision in favor of Key/Walbridge, other Walbridge executives contributed $2,250 to Longwell’s campaign. Besides the Walbridge contributions, Key Construction and its executives contributed $6,500 to Longwell’s county commission campaign. Key and its executives have been heavy contributors to Longwell’s other campaigns, as well as to Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and many other Wichita City Council members.