Kansas Senate approves campaign-disclosure bill

Wednesday, March 18, 1998

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Conservatives complained mightily but failed to prevent Senate passage of a bill that would require more groups to disclose information about attempts to influence elections.

The bill has the support of Gov. Bill Graves, his moderate Republican allies and most Democrats. Conservative Republicans oppose it because they believe it targets conservative groups that have helped them win an increasing number of legislative races in recent years.

The Senate approved it on a 24-16 vote March 17 after more than three hours of debate. The bill went to the House, where conservative Republicans hold the top leadership positions.

Supporters said the bill would improve campaign finance laws and give voters more information about who is trying to influence races.

“The voters have a right to know who’s trying to influence their elections,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.

But conservative Republicans said the bill represents an attack on the free-speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Fifteen of 27 Senate Republicans voted against the bill, most of them conservatives. Only one Democrat, Sen. Mark Gilstrap, of Kansas City, joined them.

“Many times the motivation for cleaning up campaign finance is to protect our incumbency,” said Sen. Janice Hardenburger, chairwoman of the Senate Elections and Local Government Committee. “This clearly is an incumbent protection act.”

State law requires groups to report their contributors and expenditures for advertising that promotes or opposes an individual candidate–but only if they use “magic words,” such as “vote for” or “vote against.”

The bill is designed to require disclosure in cases in which groups clearly intend to influence the outcome of a race but are more subtle in their advertising.

It would require groups that spend $2,500 trying to influence a legislative race or race for a statewide office, such as governor, to report their contributions and expenditures. A group would also have to file such reports locally if it spent $1,000 or more trying to influence a local race.

A group would have to report its spending if its advertising featured the name of an official or a picture of an official. A group sponsoring television advertising about term limits, for example, would have to report its spending if it mentioned a legislator by name.

“I think it goes to the heart of how serious we are about cleaning up this ethics issue and this campaign issue,” said Sen. Marge Petty, D-Topeka.

But conservatives said the bill is so broad that it would bring a wide range of groups, including non-profit and religious organizations, under campaign finance laws.

“The First Amendment is not a loophole and should not be treated as such,” said Hardenburger, R-Haddam.

— Campaign finance bill is SB 432. Bills are available on the Kansas government Internet site at: