Tag Archives: Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission

Say no to Kansas taxpayer-funded campaigning

Kansas taxpayers should know their tax dollars are helping staff campaigns for political office.

As reported by the Wichita Eagle, it is perfectly allowable for some Kansas state government employees to work on political campaigns.1

Can you spot the taxpayer-paid state employees on the campaign trail? The Wichita Eagle says there are two. (Click for larger)
Can you spot the taxpayer-paid state employees on the campaign trail? The Wichita Eagle says there are two. (Click for larger)
Not all Kansas state government employees can work on campaigns while being paid by taxpayers. Only personal staff members of elected officials can. But this can be quite a large number of people. The Eagle reports that Governor Sam Brownback has 21 personal staff members.

It’s not only the governor that has taxpayer-paid employees on the campaign trail. The Eagle also reports that a member of Senate President Susan Wagle‘s office has been on the campaign trail.

That senate employee, along with an employee of the governor’s office, were spotted campaigning for Gene Suellentrop. His Facebook page seemed pleased with their participation, again according to Eagle reporting:

Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, who is seeking the vacant seat in Senate District 27, posted a photo of himself and 10 campaign door walkers on Facebook last month with a message saying, “The Suellentrop for Senate crew! Coming soon to your door step.”

The photo, posted on June 14, a Tuesday, includes Ashley Moretti, a member of Brownback’s staff, and Eric Turek, who works for Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.

“Those two showed up late that afternoon on their own, I have not requested any help from any leadership,” Suellentrop said in an e-mail. “They were sure happy to get into a picture of our winning campaign.”

The first question the taxpayers of Kansas ought to ask is this: If these taxpayer-paid staff members have time to work on political campaigns, who is doing the work of the people of Kansas in their absence? What tasks are postponed so that these staff members can work on campaigns?

The answer to this question, I’m afraid, is that there are too many staff members.

The second question we should ask is this: Why is this practice allowed? There is a ruling from the ethics commission that allows this use of personal staff. Which leads to the third question: Why hasn’t the legislature passed a law to prohibit this practice?

The answer to that last question, I’m afraid, is that the ruling class protects its own. For example, there is an organization known as the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Its job is to re-elect Republican senate incumbents. It doesn’t say this, but that is what it does. This is representative of the attitude of the political class. Once most officeholders have been in office a few years, they comfortably transition to the political class. Thereafter, their most important job is their re-election campaign, followed closely by the campaigns of their cronies.

This is why you see Brownback and Wagle lending taxpayer-funded staff to the Suellentrop campaign. Should he be elected to the Kansas Senate, well, how can’t he be grateful?

Here’s what needs to happen.

First, this process must stop. Even though it is allowable, it is not right. We need leaders that recognize this. (Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty.)

Second. The trio of Suellentrop, Brownback, and Wagle need to reimburse Kansas taxpayers for the salaries of these staff for the time spent working on campaigns. (We should not blame the staff members. It’s the bosses and rule makers that are the problem.)

Third. Brownback and Wagle need to send staff to work for Suellentrop’s Republican challenger to the same degree they worked on the Suellentrop campaign. Either that, or make a contribution of the same value of the campaign services these taxpayer-funded Kansas state government workers supplied. Any other candidate in a similar situation — that of having taxpayer funds used to campaign against them — should receive the same compensation.

Now, some may be wondering how is this different from the governor endorsing senate candidates in 2012. It’s one matter for an officeholder to endorse a candidate. It’s an entirely different matter to send taxpayer-paid staff to work on campaigns. I hope that didn’t happen in 2012.

Fourth. Apologies to Kansas taxpayers are in order, as is a quick legislative fix. And, a reduction in personal staff members, as — obviously — there are too many.

Finally, thanks to the Eagle’s Bryan Lowry for this reporting.


Notes

  1. Lowry, Bryan. Taxpayer-funded campaign staff can knock at Kansans’ doors. Wichita Eagle, July 17, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/election/article90179637.html.

Kansas news digest

News from alternative media around Kansas for June 25, 2010.

Public sector grows along with KPERS dependency

(Kansas Liberty) “Between April 2008 and April 2010, the private sector in Kansas has experienced an overall loss in jobs of approximately 5.89 percent, while the public sector has experienced an overall gain in employment of approximately .83 percent. … As the public sector and its salaries continue to grow, so does the dependence on the state’s pension plan, KPERS.”

Kansas working toward implementing aspect of Obamacare

(Kansas Liberty) “The Kansas Department of Insurance is working with the federal government to create a temporary high-risk insurance pool, in accordance with regulations set forth by the new federal health-care law. High-risk insurance pools are designed to provide coverage for residents with pre-existing conditions who are unable to find coverage elsewhere. The temporary high-risk pool will operate until 2014, when the law prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions.”

Budget cuts hit small towns harder, KC Fed reports

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas government’s continuing financial jam may threaten the economic recovery of the state’s small town and rural communities, according to a new analysis published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.”

Researchers debate number of student dropouts

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – By one count, slightly more than one in 100 students drop out of school; by another count, only 75 students out of 100 actually receive diplomas. Trying to figure out the number of students in Kansas who have graduated high school, versus the number that have dropped out before graduation is tricky and confusing business.”

Info about Ethics Commission meeting not found by attending

(Kansas Watchdog) “On Tuesday the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission held their monthly meeting in Topeka. The agenda for the meeting was a bit curious: The plan was for a 15-minute session that started at 11:45, followed by a 30-minute session 90 minutes later.”

Business Owners Ask Kansas Courts to Stop Smoking Ban

(Kansas Watchdog) “Owners of private clubs and bingo operations have asked the courts to stop the statewide smoking ban (HB2221) from taking effect July 1. Attorney Tuck Duncan Friday filed a motion to intervene in a temporary injunction sought by Michael Merriam to stop implementation of the ban while courts hear claims that the ban violates various U.S Constitutional rights.”

Tiahrt and Moran Trade Shots Over Support for Federal Bailouts

(State of the State KS) “The Tiahrt (R) and Moran (R) campaigns traded shots Wednesday over the issue of government bailouts with Tiahrt firing the first shot saying Moran was misleading voters when Moran said claimed he never voted for a bailout.”

Opinion by Senate President Stephen Morris – The 2010 Legislative Session: Keeping Our Promises to Kansans

(State of the State KS) “The 2010 Legislative Session is now officially history. When this chapter of the Kansas story is written, it will go down as perhaps the most significant since the Great Depression. In fact, the challenges facing lawmakers this year were unprecedented. As we enter the election season, you may hear a lot of misinformation about what actually happened in Topeka this year; I would like to set the record straight.”

Response by Americans For Prosperity to Opinion Article by Senate President Steve Morris

(State of the State KS) “The recent letter to the editor submitted by Senate President Stephen Morris caught my attention. He claims passing the largest sales tax increase in Kansas history was the ‘only responsible way’ to address the budget shortfall. A shortfall he blames on an ‘economic crisis.'”

Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission hearing today

Today the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission is holding a hearing to consider changes to its rules regarding confidentiality. James Meier of Lawrence has experience with these rules, as he relates in Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission in need of reform. Following is the testimony that Meier will deliver at the hearing this afternoon.

Subject: Proposed amendments to K.A.R. 19-6-1

Madame Chairwoman and members of the Commission, I am here to testify against changes to K.A.R. 19-6-1 in their current form.

Before considering changes to the confidentiality rules of the Commission, I believe it is vital that members publicly recognize why these changes are being sought. This is not a normal review; rather these changes are specifically being pursued to comply with a 2009 Attorney General’s opinion that Ethics confidentiality rules violate the free speech rights of Kansas citizens.

I would also be remiss if I did not publicly recognize that this very Commission handed down an unconstitutional fine of $7,500 to a private citizen who did nothing more than exercise his right to free speech. Because of the actions of this Commission, the state of Kansas now may face a costly lawsuit in federal court.

Current state statutes and regulations prohibit the public from knowing about complaints where no probable cause is found.

While I’m sure that you are confident in your findings, the fact remains that the public can not independently verify the work of the Commission. In essence, the Commission that is charged with keeping Kansas’ public officials ethical cannot be checked itself by the public at large.

With the public unable to verify that this Commission is uniformly applying the law, a huge credibility problem has arisen.

However, if additional steps were taken to increase the transparency of the Commission, I believe that credibility could be restored.

Therefore, it is my opinion that the Commission should reject the proposed changes and instead conduct a full review of all regulations concerning Commission procedures, and amend them to allow the public full review of all Commission documents after a finding of facts has been made.

It is also my opinion that the Commission should pursue statutory changes with the Kansas Legislature to allow for the public review of any and all Ethics Commission documents after a finding of facts has been made.

It is my firm belief that ultimately, it is not this nine member Commission that keeps public officials ethical; it is the people of Kansas. I ask that you make the necessary changes to allow the public to do its job.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Kansas news digest

News from alternative media around Kansas for December 21, 2009.

KNEA uses incomplete funding data to argue for tax hikes

(Kansas Liberty) “Kansas State Department of Education Deputy Commissioner says a common practice of legislators and school advocates is only citing the base state aid K-12 receives for gauging funding levels.”

Democrat drops out of governor’s race

(Kansas Liberty) “Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wiggans announced yesterday that he was dropping out of the race amid allegations that he had acted in an ethically questionable manner at a previous job.”

Economist calls for scrapping state income tax

(Kansas Reporter) “Kansas’ economy — and its taxpayers — would be a lot better off if the state scrapped its current income tax system and replaced it with a single, 8 percent sales tax, says University of Kansas economist Art Hall. Hall, executive director of the university’s Center for Applied Economics, said a proposed 8 percent retail sales tax would replace 36 other state level taxes, including personal and corporate income taxes and would help make Kansas one of the most growth oriented state tax environments in the nation. Kansans would still pay local school district and property taxes, however.”

State executives line up to detail budget cuts

(Kansas Reporter) Kansas budget cuts mean state highways will stay snowpacked longer and wear out faster, the state’s transportation secretary, Deb Miller, told state Senate Ways and Means Committee members Tuesday. … Miller was one of 10 state executives or other officials who spoke to the Senate’s top budget writing panel about some of the challenges that an estimated $5.3 billion in Kansas tax revenues this year will present to their departments.”

Schools for Fair Funding to sue state for more education funding

(Kansas Watchdog) “The Schools for Fair Funding group met in Salina today and voted to sue the state for more funding for education. A number of Kansas media sources reported about this meeting. … None of these news sources ask questions that must be answered.”

Ethics Commission Approves Advisory Opinion

(Kansas Watchdog) “An assistant state attorney general received permission Wednesday to work for a private tobacco ‘Master Settlement Agreement’ clearinghouse as long as he doesn’t deal with Kansas matters.”

Letter From The Newsroom — Holiday Edition

(State of the State, Kansas) “This week we look at 6 people who served as the Governor of Kansas. We also visit the Kansas Historical Society to find out about Christmas Past in Kansas.”

Governor says ‘no’ to more Medicaid or education cuts

(Kansas Health Institute News Service) “The state needs a higher levy on tobacco and a new nursing home tax would help the industry, the governor said today in an interview with KHI News Service. Other taxes also should be explored to help balance the budget because cuts to needed services over the past two years have gone too deep already, he said.”

Kansas news digest

News from alternative media around Kansas for November 30, 2009.

Parkinson balances budget as promised, but now gearing up for tax hike

(Kansas Liberty premium article) Analysis of the governor’s budget cuts, with a look forward: “Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson released a column yesterday illustrating how Monday’s cuts have devastated various state agencies. Parkinson argued that any possible inefficiency within state agencies has been eliminated through the latest round of allotments. … Parkinson, in addition to some legislators, have already started to lay the foundation for tax increases and so-called ‘revenue enhancements.'”

Also from Kansas Liberty see Agencies react to governor’s cuts.

Kansas legislators butt heads on K-12 funding cuts

(Kansas Liberty) “Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson cut K-12 funding by $36 million yesterday, placing schools at the same level of funding they received in 2006. The federal government requires that states continue to fund their schools no lower than the 2006 level to maintain stimulus funding.”

Moore’s retirement spurs Republican interest in Third District race

(Kansas Liberty) “The Republican Party demonstrated a renewed interest in the Third District congressional race today after Rep. Dennis Moore, a Democrat, announced he would not be seeking re-election. Within hours of Moore’s announcement, the list of possible and probable Republican candidates more than doubled in size.” Mentioned in this article: 2008 challenger Nick Jordan, House Appropriations Chair Kevin Yoder R-Overland Park, Kansas senators Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe and Jeff Colyer, R-Overland Park, and Charlotte O’Hara.

Letter from the Newsroom — KPERS Edition

(State of the State, Kansas) “Later this week we focus on the the health of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. The Center for Applied Economics at Kansas University recently issued a report questioning the sustainability of the pension system and we speak with people at the heart of the debate including one of the co-authors of the study, Art Hall. These stories will be posted later this week so check back as we post them.”

Parkinson: No easy budget answers

(Kansas Watchdog) “Gov. Mark Parkinson said $258.9 million in spending cuts he made to balance the state’s 2010 budget will touch every agency and department. ‘This is the most challenging time in Kansas state budget history,’ Parkinson said Monday during the announcement. He said the state is dealing with an unprecedented fourth year of revenue decline, 2008 through 2011.”

Is Governor Parkinson Setting the Table for a Tax Increase?

(Kansas Watchdog) “Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson and others in his administration are loath to publicly say they want a tax increase to address the state’s budget challenges. Parkinson promised House Republicans he would make spending cuts, if needed after the 2009 Legislative session, in exchange for less contention over the budget at the end of the session. True to his word, Parkinson made the cuts. But take a look at some recent comments and consider what’s between the lines.”

Kansas Ethics Commission to ask legislature for law changes

(Kansas Watchdog) “‘Issue advocacy’ rules and less openness by some universities are among recommendations for new laws to be sent to the legislature by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. One new law would require those involved with ‘issue advocacy’ to file contribution and expenditure reports like candidates and PACs if they spend $300 or more to engage in communications with voters 30 days before a primary election, or 60 days before a general election.”

2009 Annual Report from Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission

(Kansas Watchdog) “At their recent meeting the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission discussed proposals for the Kansas legislature to consider in 2010.”

Special: Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission in need of reform

Below, James Meier of Lawrence tells of the trouble (that’s an understatement) he had trying to file an ethics complaint, and of a catch-22 that needs fixing. This story has been told on a Kansas conservative mailing list. Meier prepared this version as a special for Voice For Liberty in Wichita readers.

The subject of the “ethics” of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has surfaced recently. It’s a much more complicated story with many twists and turns that hasn’t been sufficiently explained by traditional media sources. Here is a quick synopsis to better understand my own story of interaction with the Ethics Commission.

In July of 2008, Kris Van Meteren examined the campaign finance records of state Sen. Dwayne Umbarger (R-Thayer). Van Meteren’s mother was challenging Umbarger in the August 2008 primary.

In short, Umbarger had been using his campaign account as a sort of slush fund for his own personal expenses. Van Meteren showed the reports to the Ethics Commission’s Executive Director, Carol Williams. He was looking for an investigation, but after months of inaction by the Commission, Van Meteren finally filed an official complaint. Then he had the audacity to exercise his first amendment rights and speak to the press about his Ethics Commission complaint.

Eventually the Ethics Commission dismissed the complaint against Umbarger. Of course, no one should know this because according to the Commission’s own rules, once a complaint is dismissed neither the person the complaint was filed against nor the person who filed the complaint can even acknowledge it even existed. So it’s still a mystery how the dismissal was leaked to the press.

In any case, it’s easy to see the black hole this rule creates. A politician breaks the law, so a complaint is filed. When this happens no one can even say a complaint exists. As far as the commission and anyone else are concerned, it doesn’t exist. If the commission decides to proceed with the case, at that time it becomes a public issue.

But should the Ethics Commission dismiss the complaint outright, it ceases to exist. So should the Commission be so inclined to protect certain politicians, they can quite effectively use their rules to keep anyone filing a complaint quiet. It’s a dirty politicians dream.

Thus seems to be the case with Van Meteren’s complaint against Umbarger.

After dismissing the complaint against Umbarger, the Commission in turn investigated Van Meteren for speaking about his complaint. They eventually fined him $7,500. The fine was overturned a few weeks ago when the Commission was notified by their own attorneys — the Kansas Attorney General’s office — that the current law violated Van Meteren’s first amendment rights. Thus a light is beginning to shine on the past actions of the Ethics Commission.

In the course of the Ethics Commission investigation of Van Meteren, Executive Director Carol Williams spoke with the Topeka Capital-Journal and wasn’t shy about telling the reporter that the law may have been broken. But she wasn’t referring to Sen. Umbarger. No, she was talking about Van Meteren speaking with the media.

“Williams said Van Meteren might have committed a crime by speaking with The Topeka Capital-Journal about his case. A commission investigator in Topeka is looking into a possible counter complaint against Van Meteren.”

This is where I began to get very interested. According to Williams herself, once a complaint is filed, no one can even acknowledge that it exists. Even though Van Meteren had spoken with the press about his complaint, this didn’t justify Williams also independently verifying that the complaint existed. It was the second source the reporter needed to print that a complaint existed. In other words, Williams had violated the law according to her own interpretation.

Of course, I hardly expected the commission to discipline their own director. So after the Attorney General’s ruling, I saw an opportunity to take matters into my own hands.

So on Monday May 18, I drove to Topeka to file a complaint against Williams for disclosing an open investigation to the press. Even though any citizen can file a complaint with the Ethics Commission, the form is not available on their website and I was unsuccessful at getting a copy mailed to me. I arrived at exactly 4:30pm and found their office tucked away on the fifth floor of an office building a block east of the capital. The hours on their website stated they were open from 8am to 5pm. So I was a bit surprised when I went to open the door and found it locked.

I knocked very loudly. Nothing. I pounded on the door and yelled for a good 10 minutes. Still nothing. I called their office and left a message that I had been there, that their website said the office hours were 8:00am to 5:00pm and that I wanted to file a complaint, then left for home. I later wondered if they thought I meant I wanted to file a complaint about them not being there, but after driving to Topeka for nothing I didn’t really care.

So, Tuesday morning at 7:40am I get a phone call that I didn’t answer. It was from Donna at the Ethics Commission and their hours are 7:30am to 4:30pm. Turns out the hours on their website were wrong. But I could call back and they could help me with my complaint. So I called back at 9:00am and asked if they planned to be there the rest of the day because I wanted to file a complaint. Then I clarified that it wasn’t about their hours but an actual campaign finance complaint.

Then Donna asks me when I wanted to come into the office. I said if I left right away I’d arrive sometime after 10:00am and asked what exactly their hours were. I wanted to know so I didn’t have to phone ahead should I decide I need something from their office. Then she said well, if you’re here this morning then you can meet with our investigator to which I replied, that would be fine but I didn’t need to speak to him to file a complaint, so if I missed him I’d just take the form and fill it out myself. She again said to come in and meet with an investigator and I figured there was little point in arguing about it over the phone. So I said okay and left town.

When I got there, I said I was James Meier, I had called and I was there to get a complaint form. The same gal turned around and walked off without a word. I piped up and said, “That’s okay, I just need the form.” She never said a word, just held up her finger and walked off. I waited a few minutes and Bill Beightel, the ethics investigator, comes up and asks me if I have a few minutes. He has “no problem” giving me a complaint form (good for him since he doesn’t really have a choice anyway) but that he’d like to “explain” a few things to me.

So by this time I’m getting quite curious so I sit down with him. First off I’m told that “normally” people bring a concern to them and then they do an “inquiry.” And then if they think there’s really something there that should be put before the Ethics Commission then they will fill out the complaint form.

Then I’m cautioned that if I choose to fill out the complaint myself (which, I’m reminded, isn’t the “normal” process) then I should be aware that I need to fill it out sufficiently. The commission will only consider what I describe in the complaint and nothing else, so I really need to be sure I know what I’m talking about because, again, normally the “professional” staff takes care of that. That means that I have to be sure I know something about “their statutes.” I’m dead serious here, he referred to state law as “our statutes” at least twice and I think “our laws” once.

In any case, he’s done and he just wanted to let me know about that before, you know, he gave me that golden, technically publicly accessible to anyone, complaint form. And, because he’s such a great guy, he once again offers to look into it “for me” and if he thinks there’s something there then he’ll file the complaint.

It’s about this time that I consider telling him why I don’t want him to file the complaint. You see, I understand the black hole that the Ethics Commission has created by gagging anyone filing a complaint. If they happen to like the politician named the complaint, they dismiss it; notify the offending individual and the one filing the complaint, which as far as I know was always Commission staff until Van Meteren filed his complaint.

So the staff is gagged. The Commission doesn’t talk, and the subject of the complaint certainly isn’t going to speak. The complaint has effectively been stuffed in a drawer forever, never again to be found. Even a state open records request would return nothing because any evidence found is considered confidential because the commission dismissed the case.

But, now that the Attorney General’s office has lifted the gag order on citizen complaints, there’s a twist.

According to state law, once a complaint is filed, it has to be considered by the Ethics Commission, whether they dismiss it or find sufficient evidence. If a citizen files the complaint, staff can’t ride shotgun for them and kill it before it gets to their desk, which was always possible before.

Now, even though they have to look at it they can, of curse, decide there isn’t enough evidence to warrant a hearing. But, even if they don’t find probable cause, they have to notify the person who filed the complaint and the subject of the complaint that it’s been dismissed, thus circumventing the no man’s land where those complaints ended up before. That why I want to sign the form and not leave it to a state bureaucrat.

This is precisely why I have to be talked out of signing my own complaint. If the commission dismisses it, I have to be notified and now that the confidentiality muzzle is off of the public at large. I can tell whoever I want about it. If staff signs the complaint, they’re notified it was dismissed and the public never knows.

Anyway, I thanked him and told him I’ll just take it and fill it out and return it later. Then he asks me if I mind telling him what my complaint is about. I tell him, why yes, I do mind, and leave.

When I get back, I give them the complaint and ask for a receipt, preferably a copy of the complaint with a received sticker on it. I ask them to note the time and the date. I’m told that the stamper doesn’t have the time on it (I must look like a complete idiot to them.) I ask if they would write the time on it. I’m ignored; they make a copy and hand it to me. I asked if I needed a received stamped copy for the attachments and they say no. I now realize that was a mistake to assume they’d give everything to the commission. I should have insisted, but they had seen who the subject of the complaint was by then and I was ready to leave.

And that folks is how the state treats a member of the public exercising their constitutional right to petition their government and seek justice.

I have a completely new found appreciation for what Kris Van Meteren has been through this past year.

If you’d like to know more about the specific allegations against Sen. Umbarger and the case the Ethics Commission brought against Kris Van Meteren, these Kansas Meadowlark articles will be useful:

“Free Speech” May Cost Kansas Citizen $7500
More Info on Van Meteren “Free Speech” Ethics Case
Van Meteren to appeal $7500 Fine for Free Speech in District Court
Kansas Ethics Commission’s Response to Van Meteren’s Request for Judicial Review
Attorney General Says Kansas Ethics Confidentiality Rules are Unconstitutional

Additional supplemental information is available on KansasLiberty.com.

Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission Rebuked

In a victory for free political speech, Kristian Van Meteren has prevailed over the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

Reporting by Tim Carpenter of the Topeka Capital-Journal is State ethics fine reversed. The Kansas Meadowlark has reporting, including the Kansas Attorney General’s opinion, in Attorney General Says Kansas Ethics Confidentiality Rules are Unconstitutional. Kansas Liberty coverage is Ethics Commission caves on Van Meteren charge. I saw no coverage in the Wichita Eagle.

Here’s the statement from Van Meteren’s lawyer:

Perry, KS. Caleb Stegall issued the following statement today on behalf of his client, Kristian Van Meteren, in the wake of the monthly meeting of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission:

This afternoon, under the pressure of litigation, the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has fully and completely recanted and rescinded its findings and the $7,500 fine it had previously imposed on my client, Kristian Van Meteren, for exercising his constitutionally protected rights to free speech.

By vacating its prior order after challenge in court, the Commission has both tacitly and, through its counsel at the Kansas Attorney General’s Office, expressly conceded that its actions violated Mr. Van Meteren’s constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech. As such, today’s action is a victory for the liberties of all Kansans.

Unfortunately, though Mr. Van Meteren’s legal rights have been clearly vindicated and he has emerged from this litigation victorious, it has not been without cost. This episode illustrates clearly the abuses that can occur when agents of the State choose to use their power to advance a political agenda, to reward friends, and to discourage political opponents. In fact, were it not for my client’s commitment to liberty, his willingness to expend his own resources to fight this injustice, and his dogged adherence to his clearly protected rights, the Commission would not have been forced to this decision and the speech of all Kansans would remain constrained. While today’s victory is clear, only continued vigilance on the part of citizens can protect against these kinds of abuses in the future.

As such, today’s decision does not end this matter. Mr. Van Meteren has been damaged by the Commission’s actions in having to expend time, energy, and financial resources to clear his good name. In addition, he has suffered the indignities of the Commission’s actions and prior public statements. We fully intend to evaluate Mr. Van Meteren’s options to pursue further recourse in federal courts for this clear and admitted violation.

Finally, we call on the Kansas Legislature to immediately address the unconstitutional statutes and regulations of the Commission at the convening of the 2010 session. Nothing short of a full review and rewrite of those laws will prevent such abuses from occurring in the future.

Articles of Interest

Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, Obama on education, tea parties, federal reserve

Who investigates Carol Williams? (James Meier in Kansas Liberty, a subscription service) Does the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission benefit from a catch-22 in the law? “The moment you walk in this door and file a complaint, you are prohibited by law, a class A misdemeanor, of discussing the fact that you walked in here and gave us that complaint.” — Carol Williams, Executive Director, Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. “But what happens when the Ethics Commission doesn’t follow the law? … Who investigates Williams for disclosing investigations to the press? By fining a private citizen for the very same actions she has taken, the Ethics Commission has shown an aptitude for determining when confidentiality has been breached. Should one file a complaint with the commission about the commission? Not if you want to talk to the press about it.”

Obama Echoes Bush on Education Ideas (Education Week) “President Barack Obama campaigned on a message of change, but when it comes to K-12 education, he appears to be walking in the policy footsteps of his recent predecessors, including George W. Bush…. happy at the similarities. .. ‘He is operating almost in a straight line from President Bush,’ said Diane Ravitch, an education historian at New York University … Alfie Kohn… echoes that assessment. ‘This is what passes for quote-unquote reform: an intensification of the status quo that reflects the sensibility of politicians and corporate executives rather than educators.’ The article has excerpts from the last four presidents, showing that little has changed.

Modern-Day Tea Parties Give Taxpayers Chance to Scream for Better Representation (Fox News) Nancy Armstrong, one of the organizers of the Wichita tea party on tax day, was quoted in a story on the Fox News website. “‘This is about the people. This is about what we have to say,’ said Nancy Armstrong, who’s organizing the tea party in Wichita, Kan. Armstrong, who attended one of the parties in northern Kansas in late February, said she’s expecting at least 1,000 people at the local post office in Wichita on April 15.” More coverage of the Wichita tea party is at Wichita tea party.

How Bernanke Staged a Revolution (Washington Post) About Chairman of the Federal Reserve System Ben Bernanke: “This chairman set out to lead as a civil servant rather than a celebrity economist. Facing a thundering financial collapse, he has reinvented the Federal Reserve. Bernanke, 55, has said his academic research, especially about the Great Depression, convinced him that the Fed has no choice but to move forcefully during a financial crisis.” Bernanke is definitely in favor of intervention by the Fed to help fix the current economic crisis. Not all agree this is the right course. See The Great Depression According to Milton Friedman, which concludes: “The Fed’s performance has improved since 1980, but that does not mean it is no longer capable of mistakes that would have devastating consequences for our lives. Friedman’s work should serve as a warning of what can happen when so much power is artificially concentrated in one institution. It is for this reason that it is so vitally important that people today be taught the real story of the Great Depression. Their faith in government institutions might be considerably undermined if they understood what really happened.”

Cornejo & Sons campaign contributions history

A recent Wichita Eagle news story jogged readers’ memories about the company that’s the target of the story, Cornejo & Sons, Inc., and their campaign contributions a few years back. The company asked some of its employees to make campaign contributions, and then the employees were reimbursed. That’s illegal.

A Wichita Eagle story from April 27, 2003 states: “A former administrative assistant for the Cornejo & Sons construction firm says company executives sought campaign donations from employees and then walked around the office illegally reimbursing workers with stacks of $50 and $100 bills.”

In this story, Ron Cornejo, the company president, denied the making the reimbursements.

But two days later the Eagle reported: “The president of Cornejo & Sons admitted Monday that the construction firm reimbursed employees who donated money to pro-landfill candidates for Wichita mayor and Sedgwick County Commission — a practice that violates state law. Company president Ron Cornejo issued a statement saying that he and his company are cooperating with state ethics investigators and gathering data on the contributions that were made by the employees in 2002 and 2003.”

The next day Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston announced the launching of a criminal investigation.

On August 21, 2003, according to Eagle reporting, “the state ethics commission fined Wichita-based Cornejo & Sons Inc. $15,000.” An Eagle editorial called this “a slap on the wrist.”

All candidates who received the money — a mix of Wichita mayoral, city council, and Sedgwick county commission candidates, one still in office — were cleared of any wrongdoing by the ethics commission. I couldn’t find any news stories about the result of the DA’s investigation, so I inquired at the office. But it appears that no charges were ever filed.

It’s thought that the contributions were supporting Cornejo’s substantial contracts with the City of Wichita, and also the company’s effort to gain approval to build a landfill near Furley. The construction landfill that’s the subject of the recent Eagle article wasn’t mentioned as the motivating factor for these contributions.

Update on Kansas ethics case

The Kansas Meadowlark has more coverage of a Kansas case with troubling implications:

“The legal conflict in this case is between Kansas law and confidentiality of an ethics complaint, and the U.S. Constitution’s 1st amendment right to free speech. Oddly in this case, the one making the complaint, is the one being fined. This has a a chilling effect on free speech, and one’s right to bring a grievance against the government.”

See the post More Info on Van Meteren “Free Speech” Ethics Case.

Free Speech May Cost Kansas Citizen $7500

The Kansas Meadowlark reports on a troubling situation at the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

As reported in the story, Kansans may be faced with two unpleasant options:

If you uncover corruption of violations of campaign finance statutes, you will be forced to choose between two difficult options.

1. Either turn the matter over to the Ethics Commission and surrender your right to ever discuss the matter publicly again and risk having the Ethics Commission bury the matter forever; or

2. Preserve your right to discuss the matter freely but forego seeing the matter investigated and justice served.

The entire story is on the Meadowlark’s site at “Free Speech” May Cost Kansas Citizen $7500.

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius: Different from You and I

Do different laws exist for Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and the rest of us? (At least the conservatives and libertarians among us?)

The Kansas Meadowlark reports this: “Apparently Sebelius is exploiting a loop hole in Kansas law in using her PAC to attack conservatives. The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission said a similar new ‘Leadership’ PAC with ties to conservative House Majority Leader Ray Merrick could not exist.”

Read the Meadowlarks’s full report at Gov. Sebelius’ Bluestem Fund “Leadership” PAC attacks conservatives.