Monday, February 22, 2010

Kansas Senate Passes Incumbent Elevation Act

In 2010, with establishment politicians in danger coast-to-coast, there is one thing that the tea party movement -- and the American people in general -- have made clear:

They are sick of arrogant politicians thinking they know more than the people do -- and even worse, passing laws to give themselves huge advantages once in office.

Well, that is exactly what the Kansas Senate did this past week when it passed SB 423, which we will label the "Incumbent Elevation Act" -- under this law, unexpended campaign funds in one campaign can be transferred to another state campaign by the same person. So, for example, if State Rep. X has $50K in his bank, and wants to run for the State Senate, he can transfer that $50K to a State Senate account Likewise, if someone in either position wants to run for Governor, they can take their warchests and transfer that to said new campaign. They would not be able to transfer said money if they were running for Congress or any federal office, as laws governing those campaigns are on the federal level.

Note, this process was legal before -- Sebelius used it to become Governor -- but right now, due to Kansas Supreme Court urling, said campaign funds must be either not spent, spent exclusively on items related to the previous campaign for the previous office, returned to donors, or donated to either a political party and/or a charity.

This bill passed 27-12. We'd like to praise Kaw & Border favorites Tim Huelskamp, Dennis Pyle, Mary Pilcher Cook and Jeff Colyer for voting no along with 8 other Democrats and moderates in voting against this bill.

The baseline logic is this -- "Hey, this person donated to me once for this office, why can't I use that same money to run for another office? I am the same person, after all!"

The arrogance of this argument is startling, and here are the reasons why this bill should be rejected:

1. First of all, it provides holders of one office a huge advantage when running for other state offices. If a Republican holding a safe seat in Kansas -- as often the case -- they can basically plan to run for Governor for years, without telling anyone. That is inherently unfair and undemocratic. It essentially allows someone to secretly plan to collect donations for another office without ever telling the public, an end run around election laws. We recognize that incumbents have natural advantages, but those advantages shouldn't be solidified into law by those same incumbents -- no matter which party they are a part of.

2. Second of all, related to the first point, it will increasingly emphasize the role of fundraising in politics -- because even someone in a safe House or Senate seat, if they have any desire to run for future office, they would be stupid not to continue heavy fundraising efforts (that they could later transfer to another campaign) -- otherwise, they would be giving a distinct advantage to potential competitors who do continue their fundraising efforts.

3. Third, also related to those first two points, it will discourage good people for running for office if they haven't been planning on it for years. For example, if someone is looking at running for a State Senate seat, they might decide not to run if they know a current State Representative could simply transfer their warchest over to their State Senate account, giving them a head start of what could be tens of thousands of dollars, if not more. This is not healthy.

4. Fourth, and this is the most egregious example of arrogance i the bill, this new law assumes that if I give money to someone for State Rep, that automatically I am okay with that money going to that person if they run for State Senate or a state office like Governor. Case in point -- I might give money to Kevin Yoder in his State House race if he's being challenged by a Democrat, as he has been -- but that doesn't mean I want to have that money going to Kevin Yoder if he decides to run for Attorney General (as was rumored earlier this cycle)!

In our eyes, a campaign check written for John Smith for State Representative should be for John Smith for State Representative, not John Smith for State Senate or John Smith for Governor. If John Smith wants to run for Governor, John Smith can open an account and file with the GEC so people can write a check for that purpose.

This bill would essentially allow for people who once ran for one office to hoard their money without ever giving intention of what other office they plan on seeking. It also would set up a weird situation where someone who decided to leave office could keep their money in their campaign accounts because one day, they might run for another office. It also sets up scenarios for Machiavellian shenaningans:

Case in point: say a State Rep builds a huge war chest of say, $80,000, raising it on the notion he's going to run for re-election in 2010. Down deep, however, he has his eyes set on the State Senate in 2012. So, with his name ID already fairly high, on the day before the filing deadline, he opts not to run for re-election. A few months later, he opens a State Senate account and immediately transfers the $80,000, giving him a gigantic head start against any potential challengers.

This bill is wrong on a host of levels, and needs to be rethought and rejected in the Kansas House.