An anonymous campaign flier mailed out in the waning days of the Roeland Park mayoral race this spring did not violate election laws, a Johnson County district attorney’s investigation found.
But if the disparaging flier had been mailed in Leawood, Lenexa or Shawnee, it’s possible the flier would have broken the law, officials said.
State law prohibits “corrupt political advertising” but that only applies to “first-class cities” with populations of 15,000 to 25,000 or greater.
Roeland Park, however, is a second-class city with a population of 6,800.
“You can do whatever the heck you want to and there is no oversight” on elections in smaller cities, said Linda Mau, the mayoral candidate who was targeted in the flier. Mau, a former councilwoman and a citizen advocate, lost the April election to Joel Marquardt.
The flier would have been considered “corrupt political advertising” if it had been from a larger city because it did not state who paid for it or sponsored it and who was the chairperson or treasurer of the political organization.
In other words, anonymous fliers are illegal.
The flier that was distributed in Roeland Park three days before the April 2 election was stamped in red that Mau was not qualified and said the city “deserved better.” It said she had been reckless financially and had property code violations.
In addition, it said Mau had been dishonest because The Kansas City Star several years ago had been unable to verify that she held a master’s degree from the University of Houston.
“This is hurtful,” said Mau, who says she does have the degree and has fixed her financial and property code problems.
City Council President Robert Meyers Jr. said the flier was “appalling.”
“This is just wrong and needs to be called wrong,” Meyers said. “It shouldn’t happen to her or anybody else.”
So far, while there are rumors, it’s unknown who mailed the flier.
Besides Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe, the city attorney also is conducting an investigation. That report should be released at the council’s meeting on Monday, Meyers said.
After the flier arrived in Roeland Park mailboxes, Mau filed a complaint with the Johnson County Election Office. Election commissioner Brian Newby turned over the complaint to the district attorney, who found that only candidates for local offices in first-class cities are held to the state standard.
Meyers said when the city’s investigative report is released soon, he hopes it will have proof of who was responsible so that person can be publicly reprimanded or censured. While only a slap on the wrist, Meyers said public humiliation can act as a deterrent.
“I’m from a big family and when you come up in front of everybody, and everybody knows why you got it, they try to avoid it,” he said.
Both Mau and Meyers said the law needs to be changed.
Mau said she is talking to several state legislators and expects a meeting will be held in June to discuss changing the law when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
Meyers said he sent an email to Howe asking how the city could become subject to the law.
“Part of my feeling is why are we paying the county to manage (elections) if anything goes?” Meyers asked. “Elections are expensive. If we are going to have a free-for-all, let’s just make a reality TV show out of it.”
After years of political turmoil in Roeland Park, politics there had become fairly tame over the past few years until this incident, Meyers said. With three new council members and a new mayor, education is needed.
“A lot of this becomes ingrained in the mode of operation,” Meyers said. “Ridding it has taken a long time. I thought we were mostly passed it but apparently we are not.”