Governor pushes campaign reform before Kansas legislature

Monday, February 16, 1998

A key campaign-finance reform proposal from Kansas Gov. Bill Graves that focuses on issue-oriented advertising could face some crucial votes this week in two legislative committees.

Graves’ proposal, one of more than a dozen campaign-finance reform packages before the legislature this session, requires individuals or groups spending money on
advertising that focuses on issues but not necessarily candidates to disclose publicly who gives them money and how it is spent.

Although the plan enjoys the support of moderate Republicans and Democrats, many conservatives and the American Civil Liberties Union oppose the legislation arguing that the measure infringes upon free-speech rights.

The House Governmental Organization and Elections Committee plans to begin hearings Wednesday on 16 ethics and campaign-finance bills, including five dealing with the disclosure issue. The committee could debate and vote on the bills, which apply to groups that spend $1,000 or more a year, before the end of the week.

The governor’s proposal, which would apply to groups spending more than $2,500 during an election season, is before the Senate Elections and Local Government Committee. Sen. Janice Hardenburger, R-Haddam, said she has not decided whether the Senate committee will vote on the governor’s proposal.

“I am not comfortable being a trendsetter,” she said.

When the legislature considered a similar proposal last year, both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Christian Coalition promised to file lawsuits in federal court to challenge such laws.

Dick Kurtenbach, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas & Western Missouri, said the governor’s proposal and several of the bills include language “that could conceivably” legislate the disclosure of membership lists of groups contributing to campaigns.

While the ACLU doesn’t oppose disclosure of contributions of more than $100 “we are adamantly opposed that the membership lists of organizations making contributions be divulged,” Kurtenbach told the First Amendment Center. “We think that is a clear violation of the freedom of association.”

Opponents to the legislation cite several U.S. Supreme Court rulings allowing groups to maintain control of their membership lists. In 1994, the court struck down an Ohio law prohibiting the distribution of anonymous leaflets. In four cases in the 1950s and 1960s, the court kept the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from having to turn over membership lists to officials in Southern states.

The court in all cases said anonymity protected the members and the speakers from having their free-speech rights restricted.

But supporters said Graves’ proposal in particular should pass muster. They said the proposal is similar to a Tennessee law declared constitutional in 1987 by that state’s highest court.

“I’ll take this in incremental steps,” Graves told the state ethics commission. “I just think we ought to acknowledge it’s a potential problem and get something started, and then maybe improve upon it as time goes by.”

House Speaker Tim Shallenburger, R-Baxter Springs, and his fellow conservatives oppose the proposal, but Shallenburger is not sure they can prevent moderate Republicans and Democrats from pushing it through.

“You get into campaign finance, and who knows?” Shallenburger

—FAC staff and the Associated Press contributed to this report.