Local News Spotlight

Kansas Ethics Commission fines two for campaign violations

Updated: 2012-09-20T04:43:01Z

By BRAD COOPER

The Star's Topeka correspondent

— The Kansas Ethics Commission on Wednesday fined a Johnson County state Senate candidate and an assistant in the county district attorney’s office for violating campaign finance laws.

The commission levied a $500 fine against Heather Jones, head of the child abuse and sex crimes unit for Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe. The commission also fined state Rep. Greg Smith $100 for using his Facebook page to invite lobbyists to a political fundraiser during the last legislative session.

Jones was fined for using her district attorney’s office computer to distribute political emails to 13 people suggesting ways they could help a Franklin County sheriff’s candidate. Jones lives in Ottawa and once served as the Franklin County attorney.

Jones told the commission she didn’t send the email in her capacity as an assistant district attorney. She said she thought she was sending the email as a private Franklin County resident. She said she wasn’t soliciting money or votes.

“I didn’t know what I was doing was wrong,” Jones told the commission. “It never even occurred to me that it was some violation of the campaign finance act.”

Jones questioned whether her email fit the legal definition of “expressed advocacy” as defined by the law.

Smith’s violation carried a fine up to $5,000, but the commission said it was being lenient by levying only a $100 fine partly because he self-reported the infraction. Commissioners also thought that Smith, an Overland Park Republican, was not intentionally trying to gain an advantage in his race.

The invitation to his barbecue fundraiser was extended during the legislative session.

Smith, who is running for the Senate District 21 seat against Democrat Juanita Roy, said even the hint that he violated the law caused him distress. He said the Facebook post did not request any contributions. The only indication he was soliciting money from anyone is that the event was labeled a “fundraiser.”

“I would submit that no request was made for money,” Smith said. “It was simply a heads-up.”

He said the real intent of the Facebook message was to gauge how much food would be needed for the event. He said some of those invited were people he knew before he was in the Legislature who also happened to be lobbyists.

To reach Brad Cooper, call 816-234-7724 or send email to bcooper@kcstar.com.

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