KC council panel supports campaign contribution limits

The sky is the limit for campaign contributions to state legislators in Jefferson City, but Kansas City Council members think too much money flooding campaigns just raises the spectre of corruption.

So on Wednesday, the City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee reaffirmed the council’s support for campaign contribution limits. The measure goes to the full Council on June 12.

“We’ve seen what the result of no limits can be and I don’t think it’s healthy,” Finance Committee Chair Jan Marcason said after Wednesday’s committee vote. “It’s the appearance of impropriety.”

The City Council first began regulating its own campaign contributions in 1992. Limits have fluctuated since then and have been affected by changes in state law.

When specific city limits were adopted in 2007, most council members said Kansas City residents wanted grassroots campaigns that would not be unduly influenced by huge bundles of cash. The Missouri General Assembly then abolished campaign limits with a law that took effect in August 2008. But it did not prohibit charter cities such as Kansas City from reinstating their own limits, and the city council chose to do so.

City Attorney Bill Geary told the panel that the latest measure would adjust those limits every four years to account for changes in the consumer price index. The new limits for the 2015 city council elections apply for the primary period, from March 23, 2011, to April 7, 2015, and then for the general election period, April 8, 2015, to June 23, 2015. Contribution limits for mayoral candidates per election period would be $3,150, up from $3,000. Limits for at-large council candidates would be $2,625 and for in-district candidates would be $1,575, also slight increases.

The ordinance also makes accommodations for state and county legislators, school board members and others who have campaigned in the past without such limits, have built up campaign war chests, and now choose to run for City Council. Geary said amounts that those candidates have collected would not be affected by the limits until the day after the person’s non-city election. If a candidate has collected more than the city limit after the non-city election, he would have to return the excess money to the donor or could donate it to another campaign.

Geary said he has looked at campaign disclosure reports for some potential City Council candidates currently serving in other offices. He determined they would not be severely affected by the city’s limits and would not have to return huge amounts of donations.

The filing period for Kansas City Council candidates will begin Dec. 9, 2014, and end Jan. 13, 2015.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.