Kansas Senate bill seeks to prohibit government entities from using taxpayer funds for lobbying purposes

Bel Aire Police Chief Darrell Atteberry expressed his concerns regarding the legislation sponsored by Americans for Prosperity-Kansas. According to him, this legislation would have a significant impact on law enforcement associations across the state, effectively silencing and disenfranchising them.

Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, praised a bill proposed by a lobbyist from Americans for Prosperity. The bill aims to prohibit cities, counties, schools, and the state from using taxpayer funds for lobbying purposes. Norquist sees this as a solution to the issue of government overspending and excessive regulation.

Grover Norquist made an effort on Monday to rally support for a bill in the Kansas Senate. The bill aims to prevent the use of public funds for lobbying, paying membership dues to lobbying associations, or providing gifts and campaign contributions to elected officials or government employees.

Public employees who work for government entities like counties, townships, cities, school districts, or state agencies could face disciplinary consequences if they violate the law. Senate Bill 373 grants the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission the power to impose civil fines on individuals who commit offenses. The fines for a first offense would amount to $1,000, while a second infraction would result in a $3,000 penalty. For those who commit a third or subsequent violation, the fine would increase to $8,000.

According to Norquist, there is a common trend where the strongest advocates for higher taxes are the ones whose salaries are supported by those very taxes. He points out that often, it is the hardworking families and businesses who end up paying the price for increased spending, regulations, and the lobbying efforts that contribute to the success of such initiatives.

County, city, school, and law enforcement organizations strongly disagreed with Norquist’s assertion that lobbying funded by public money was dishonest. At the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee hearing, opponents of the bill outnumbered supporters by a ratio of 3-to-1.

According to Bel Aire Police Chief Darrell Atteberry, who also serves as the legislative chair of the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, the proposed bill would prevent several organizations, including his own, the Kansas Sheriff’s Association, and the Kansas Peace Officers Association, from utilizing the services of former Topeka Police Chief Ed Klumpp as their shared lobbyist.

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According to Atteberry, the passing of SB 373 would have a significant impact on the law enforcement associations in Kansas, effectively silencing and disenfranchising them. With over 6,600 sworn officers represented by these associations, the absence of a unified voice would make it difficult for legislators to seek input on general questions or pending legislation. Instead, they would have to approach a large pool of over 100 sheriffs or over 300 police chiefs across the state.

According to Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter, law enforcement officers were unable to dedicate their time to attending committee meetings, collaborating with legislators, and working on bill drafts and amendments at the Capitol. He emphasized the importance of having a lobbyist to assist the Legislature in crafting effective laws that prioritize the safety of Kansans.

Violation of rights

The bill, which was introduced in January by lobbyist Jonathan Lueth from Americans for Prosperity-Kansas, raised the issue of fairness in taxpayer-funded government lobbying. Making the case on behalf of the organization, lobbyist Michael Austin emphasized that it was unfair for taxpayers to bear the burden of funding such activities. Austin’s viewpoint was supported by his colleagues, Mackenzie Martin-Fisk and Elizabeth Patton, who are also registered lobbyists at AFP-Kansas.

According to Austin, taxpayers already have their own legislator as their designated advocate for lawmaking. If a constituent desires additional representation, they should explicitly give their permission for it. Austin believes that diverting taxpayer dollars for purposes other than the execution of the law violates their rights.

According to Kari Sue Vosburgh, a Republican Party precinct committeewoman in Sedgwick County, the bill is a reflection of the politically conservative objectives of the GOP.

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She emphasized the importance of the legislation in promoting ethical conduct within government entities, stating that it sets clear guidelines for employees. She further highlighted that adhering to ethical standards is vital for building public trust.

James Franko, a registered state lobbyist with Kansas Policy Institute, expressed long-standing concerns among political organizations in Kansas about taxpayer-funded lobbying. It is worth noting that KPI was established by an individual who dedicated thirty years of their career to Koch companies and foundations.

In his testimony endorsing the bill, Franko argued that lobbyists could be perceived as individuals who sell influence to the highest bidder. To underscore this point, he referenced President Thomas Jefferson’s statement on religious freedom, stating, “Forcing someone to financially support the spread of ideas they disagree with is both morally wrong and oppressive.”

Just ‘mean spirited’

According to Mike Taylor, a lobbyist for the Kansas County Commissioners Association, his primary responsibility at the Capitol is to represent the interests of all 105 counties. As a representative for over 360 elected county officials, who come from both rural and urban areas and belong to both the Republican and Democratic parties, Taylor emphasizes the importance of advocating for a diverse range of perspectives.

According to Taylor, the legislation is “mean spirited” and aims to “censor and silence” the voices of local elected officials who should be working in partnership with the Kansas Legislature.

According to Mark Skoglund, the executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, the bill would result in a cumbersome system for monitoring taxpayer-related expenses that could potentially be seen as lobbying.

The practicality of allowing a government employee to communicate with legislators upon their request was questioned. Additionally, the exception in the bill for government employees to discuss matters necessary for the efficient conduct of public business or related to their official duties was also perplexing. It was noted that complying with the requirement for communication to occur through proper official channels may present challenges.

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According to Skoglund, the lack of specificity in this exception makes it challenging to enforce. It is unclear how to determine if a requested action has used the proper official channels or if it actually involves the operations of the state or a municipality.

‘Flatly unconstitutional’

Nathan Eberline, the executive director of the League of Kansas Municipalities, expressed concern over the potential consequences of the bill, stating that it would greatly diminish the organization’s ability to support local government. He also noted that the proposed measure seemed to contradict the established precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case.

Eberline, a registered lobbyist, believes that the proposal is clearly unconstitutional. He argues that SB 373 violates the First Amendment rights of municipal corporations by imposing limitations on their political speech and advocacy.

According to Jay Hall, general counsel for the Kansas Association of Counties, although the Senate bill may seem like a chance to save money for taxpayers, it would ultimately harm local communities by denying them a fair chance to protect the public’s interest.

According to Hall, a registered lobbyist in the state, the bill appears to disregard the state law which mandates that counties be involved in matters pertaining to public health, emergency management, solid waste planning, law enforcement, roads and bridges, noxious weed eradication, election administration, property tax collection, criminal prosecution, flood control, and other related areas.

Hall emphasized that policy inefficiencies that fail to take into account real-world implications end up costing taxpayers money.

According to Tim Danneberg, the director of external affairs with the city of Olathe, it is crucial for the Legislature to take into account all perspectives when making decisions.

“This is the 373rd bill that has been brought before the Senate,” he pointed out. “It would be impractical and irresponsible to believe that legislation can be effectively supervised without having a presence in the Statehouse.”

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