The leading Republican in the Kansas Senate said Friday she would push for legislation requiring anyone who attempts to influence an executive branch official on contracts to register as a lobbyist.
In her announcement, Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, noted “the urgent need for greater transparency.”
“I think anybody that’s seeking a contract with the executive branch or seeking legislation, they should register just like a lobbyist does who’s seeking legislation from their elected representatives,” Wagle said.
Wagle’s proposal would appear to have applied to discussions surrounding the rebuilding of the Lansing prison.
The Kansas Department of Corrections wants to rebuild parts of the prison and is seeking approval from the State Finance Council to contract with CoreCivic on the project. If it had been in place, Wagle’s proposal likely would have forced CoreCivic to disclose which of its officials — if any — had been trying to sway Corrections or the Brownback administration.
David Kensinger, a former chief of staff to Gov. Sam Brownback, registered to lobby lawmakers on behalf of CoreCivic. But it is not known whether he sought to influence the administration’s decisions on the project.
At virtually the same time Wagle sent out the statement about the bill, which has yet to be introduced, Democratic leaders said at a news conference Friday that they would roll out a number of transparency bills next week. They declined to go into detail.
A recent investigation by The Star found that Kansas has one of the most secretive state governments in the nation. The Star’s series, “Why so secret, Kansas?” highlighted multiple examples of state and local agencies hiding information from the public eye.
Concerns about the state’s lack of transparency were voiced Thursday night at a town hall sponsored by The Star in Olathe. Participants, including legislators who were on the panel and the crowd of about 140, said change is needed in Topeka to make government more accountable to its citizens.
Those lawmakers and others said after the series was published that they would push to fix the state’s culture of secrecy.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said he is on the “same wavelength” as Wagle on requiring individuals who want to influence executive action on contracts to register as lobbyists.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, was also warm to the proposal.
“We accept any partners on good ideas and if the Senate president is serious about those kind of changes, we look forward to partnering with her on those ideas,” Ward said.
Ron Keefover, president of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, said the organization’s members would “wholeheartedly support” the proposal.
“I think that’s a very good idea and I think it’s worked well as far as lobbying the Legislature and I see no reason why it wouldn’t work with contracts,” Keefover said.
Wagle’s legislation Friday was among the first significant transparency measures to become public during the early days of the 2018 legislative session.
“Our ethics laws require that anyone attempting to influence legislation must register with the Secretary of State,” Wagle said. “And I didn’t know until this past summer … that most states require anybody to register who’s seeking to influence legislation or who’s seeking a contract or a lease agreement or anything with the executive branch, too. And so it was just a hole.”
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach quickly endorsed Wagle’s proposal.
“This is a great step by @SenatorWagle to bring transparency to Topeka,” Kobach, a Republican candidate for governor, tweeted.
Wagle said there hasn’t been any communication with Brownback about the legislation.
“I’m hoping he’ll sign the bill,” Wagle said.
Kendall Marr, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer said the language of the proposed bill still needs to be reviewed.
“But Gov. Brownback is generally supportive of the proposal,” he said in an email.