By Earl Glynn | Kansas Watchdog
TOPEKA — The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission on Wednesday adopted a practical solution to a problem caused by new Kansas House and Senate districts imposed by the federal court recently.
At issue was whether the new districts resulted in candidates running for the “same office” or a different office. The decision determined whether or not existing campaign accounts could still be used.
Did a change in district number, or a change in the district boundary, mean a candidate was running for the same office or a different office as defined by Kansas statute and clarified by a state court opinion?
The answer to that redistricting problem took much of the Commission’s time in open session.
But after that matter was resolved, would anyone mention a lawsuit filed in state district court challenging a recent ethics decision by the Commission?
Problem Caused by Redistricting Imposed by U.S. Court
A few candidates called Williams after the court’s decision asking whether they would be required to open new campaign accounts because of changes to districts. Williams postponed any answer until the Wednesday meeting.
A Kansas Supreme Court decision of Cole v. Mayans in 2003 restricted the way funds could be transferred between campaign accounts for the “same office.”
The 2003 court case reinforced the idea that “same office” meant the same legislative body and the same district number — but that was a problem for many after redistricting. For example, State Senate District 36 was normally interpreted to be a “different office” than State Senate District 37.
The intent of this law is to restrict transfer of campaign money if an office holder chooses to move to another part of the state. For example, one may not now move from Western Kansas to Johnson County (or vice versa) and use the same campaign funds even if running for the same legislative body.
After discussing alternatives, a practical solution was adopted with a slightly different definition of “same office” only for 2012. The Ethics Commission adopted this opinion:
“In light of the recent federal court redistricting decision, for any state senatorial or representative district that was impacted by that decision, for the 2012 election a candidate who previously ran for a seat in the Kansas legislature is considered to be running for the same office if that candidate is running for a seat in the same legislative chamber. As a consequence, that candidate may transfer campaign funds from his former campaign account to his subsequent campaign account for that same office.”
Without this new opinion scores of incumbent candidates, and others having existing campaign accounts, would have been required to close existing accounts and open new ones.
Commissioner John Solbach said such a practical solution was needed since there was no time to consider the 100 House and 40 Senate district cases individually.
Not Discussed: Van Meteren’s Lawsuit
No one at the Ethics meeting commented in open session about a lawsuit filed by Kris Van Meteren, Ozawkie, on June 15 in Shawnee County District Court asking for judicial review of a recent Commission decision.
In March 2012 Van Meteren re-opened an ethics complaint against State Senator Dwayne Umbarger that he first filed in August 2008.
In 2008 Van Meteren’s original complaint was dismissed.
Unexpectedly in 2009 VanMeteren was fined $7,500 by the Commission for talking to the press about his complaint.
That fine was overturned by an opinion from the Kansas Attorney General that Van Meteren was within his First Amendment free speech rights to talk about the complaint.
While Van Meteren had no fine to pay he racked up hefty legal bills defending his right to free speech. Van Meteren asked but has never been reimbursed by the State of Kansas for those legal bills.
The last page of Van Meteren’s 67-page petition for judicial review is a letter from Ethics legal counsel Camille Nohe in which she explains the Commission’s decision on May 16 not to take any action on the new complaint.
Van Meteren’s name was also never mentioned at the May 16 meeting in open session. The Twitter Minutes from the May 16 meeting reveal a lengthy closed session that lasted more than 90 minutes, which was likely the Commission’s secret discussion of Van Meteren’s complaint.
After Wednesday’s meeting Kansas Watchdog asked Carol Williams for a statement about Van Meteren’s lawsuit.
Williams reply: “There is no statement to make.”
The Commission spent 30 minute in secret session on Wednesday to discuss a matter with their attorney. At this time it is not possible to learn whether that discussion was about Van Meteren’s lawsuit.
- Press Release by Van Meteren’s attorney, Thomas E. Knutzen, June 18, 2012.
- Van Meteren’s Petition for Judicial Review filed in Shawnee County District Court (67 pages), June 15, 2012.
- New ethics complaints filed against State Senator Umbarger, Kansas Watchdog, March 14, 2012.
- GOP activist fails again on legal claim, Topeka Capital-Journal, Sept. 15, 2011.
- Ethics Commission declines action on $17,500 claim in Free Speech case, Kansas Watchdog, July 22, 2009.
- Attorney General Says Kansas Ethics Confidentiality Rules are Unconstitutional, Kansas Meadowlark, May 13, 2009.
- Van Meteren to appeal $7500 Fine for Free Speech in District Court, Kansas Meadowlark, March 27, 2009.
- 1st Amendment Constitutional Right may become issue in Kansas Ethics Commission Hearing in January. Silence the accuser?, Kansas Meadowlark, Dec. 17, 2008.
- Did Senator Umbarger violate ethics rules buying a carport with campaign money? Umbarger clairvoyant?, Kansas Meadowlark, Aug. 7, 2008.
Other Matters Before the Commission
The Twitter Minutes below give some additional details of other matters before the commission on Wednesday, including civil penalty assessment orders, and missing “paid for by” attribution statements in campaign materials.
While not discussed by the Commission, Kansas Watchdog obtained the list of the 21 House and Senate candidates late in filing Statements of Substantial Interest as of noon Wednesday. See the document section below.
Live tweeted by @KansasWatchdog on June 27, 2012 using hashtag #ksethics.
Some corrections from the live tweets were made below.
- 1:05 #ksethics KS Gov Ethics meeting started. Carol Williams giving her report. Overseeing 579 state candidates, 1161 county candidates
- 1:06 #ksethics 21 candidates for State Rep and State Senate are late in filing Statements of Substantial Interest reports;Will post later. #ksleg
- 1:07 #ksethics 2004 Ethics opinion being considered on transfer of campaign accounts when district number changed.
- 1:08 #ksethics When district # changed can campaign account for same body (House or Senate) still be used? Being discussed now…
- 1:10 #ksethics State Senate Larry D Salmans asked for opinion since his Senate number changed. His district changed from 37 to 36.
- 1:11 #ksethics The statute says something like “same substantial area” but Ethics Commission will decide what that means now with redistricting.
- 1:13 #ksethics Ethics attorney says this is a “dicey” policy issue. Carol Williams has avoided answering pending decision by Commission.
- 1:15 #ksethics Commissioner Solbach opines same substantial area for same body should be same office and same account could be used.
- 1:15 #ksethics Solbach: “we have to look at this practically” given what happened with redistricting.
- 1:17 #ksethics Chair Dan Harden says he is in complete agreement with Solbach’s take on the matter; Fairness to contributors should be considered
- 1:19 #ksethics Commissioner Reimer, former legislator, not so sure since legislature had bills to change and took no action in recent years
- 1:20 #ksethics Reimer not sure what basis Sec of State Kobach used to change districts automatically after federal court decision.
- 1:21 #ksethics Solbach “We have an extraordinary situation here.” Otherwise redistricting would force changes to all campaign accounts.
- 1:21 #ksethics Solbach: Moving across the state to run for office is different from what happened in redistricting.
- 1:22 #ksethics Solbach: We don’t have the time to consider each of the 125 House, 40 Senate district cases. Not practical.
- 1:23 #ksethics Reimer: Candidates could transfer to county party and the county party could give to new committee. There is a mechanism.
- 1:24 #ksethics Solbach: I’m not looking at this as a partisan but as a practical matter. Bills not acted on by legislature not about redistr.
- 1:26 #ksethics Commissioner Krull: Did the district move or did the candidate move? Should make a difference. Others not sure.
- 1:27 #ksethics Commissioner James Ward suggesting opinion should be limited in focus to current redistricting matter.
- 1:30 #ksethics Commissioner Mark Simpson “We need to be grounded in the law”. Cites KS Supreme Court case.
- 1:31 #ksethics Simpson: Question is when is someone running for the same office? Don’t look at geographic area. Look at voters.
- 1:32 #ksethics Simpson suggests looking at percentage of district that changed as basis of opinion.
- 1:34 #ksethics Commissioner Carol Foreman suggests legally Commission should decide when candidates are seeking same office.
- 1:36 #ksethics Foreman moves to ask opinion be drafted to define “the same office” as used in Supreme Court case. Solbach seconds.
- 1:37 #ksethics Discussing: A “state rep” is a “state rep” if incumbent impacted by redistricting but not in other cases.
- 1:41 #ksethics Opinion to be drafted will only focus incumbents impacted by redistricting. Simpson still thinks approach is wrong.
- 1:51 #ksethics Commission still struggling with language to define “same office” for those impacted by federal redistricting ruling.
- 1:56 #ksethics Commission votes to draft opinion about practical definition of “same office” based on redistricting issues and current laws.
- 1:57 #ksethics Commission plans to vote on opinion about “same office” later in the session today.
- 1:59 #ksethics Lobbyists Diane Daldrup, Ashley Jones-Wisner to receive civil penalty for late report. Jones-Wisner asking for waiver.
- 2:01 #ksethics Commission votes to waive $160 civil penalty on Ashley Jones-Wisner. Approved on voice vote.
- 2:02 #ksethics Commission now considering 5 cases of omitted “paid for by” attribution statements in campaign materials
- 2:05 #ksethics Commission anonymously received by mail a bag of candy and small piece of paper missing an attribution statement.
- 2:06 #ksethics Commission votes to send letter to Nathan Coleman about missing attribution statement.
- 2:07 #ksethics Commisson votes to send letter to State Rep Joe Patton for missing attribution statement in campaign materials.
- 2:08 #ksethics Commission votes to send letters to Susan Leedy and Stewart Braden for missing attribution statement.
- 2:10 #ksethics Commission votes to send letter to SG County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn about missing attribution statement on web site/mailing.
- 2:11 #ksethics Commission takes 10 minute break before likely closed executive session. Commission attorney needed for closed session.
- 2:24 #ksethics Commission approves opinion statement about “same office” regarding campaign accounts after redistricting.
- 2:25 #ksethics Ethics Commission goes into closed executive session for 30 minutes to discuss matters with their attorney.
- 2:48 #ksethics On June 15 Kris Van Meteren filed lawsuit in Shawnee County asking for judicial review of ethics matter. Case 12C000685.
- 2:49 #ksethics There is no way to know if the Ethics Commission is discussing Van Meteren’s case in closed executive session today.
- 3:02 #ksethics Commission votes to extend executive session till 3:22 but now considering matters involving audits, investigations …
- 3:23 #ksethics Closed executive session extended till 3:27
- 3:27 #ksethics Carol Williams: Ethics Commission not planning a July meeting. May hold telephone conference. Next meeting on Aug. 15.
- 3:30 #ksethics: Carol Williams: “There’s no statement to make” about Van Meteren filing in Shawnee District Court for judicial review of matter.
- p. 1: Agenda
- pp. 2-4: Minutes from May 16 meeting
- pp. 5-6: Summary of candidate filings
- pp. 7-8: Opinion from 2004 addressing “same office” definition by Ethics Commission
- pp. 9-10: Civil Penalties for Late Lobbyist Reports:
Diane Daldrup, Ashley Jones-Wisner
- pp. 11-26: Omitted “Paid for By” Attribution Statements:
Nathan Coleman, Joe Patton, Susan Leedy, Stewart Braden, Karl Peterjohn
Draft Ethics Opinion defining “same office” after court imposed redistricting (minor clerical changes were approved)
- State Rep Phil Hermanson’s Treasurer Fined $500 by Ethics Commission, Kansas Watchdog, May 18, 2012.
- Wichita Councilman fined $500 by Ethics Commission, Kansas Watchdog, March 22, 2012.
- Summary and Rankings of Kansas Political Action Committees, Kansas Watchdog, Jan. 17, 2012.
Contact: Earl F Glynn, firstname.lastname@example.org, KansasWatchdog.org
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