Government & Politics

Campaign finance bill would allow donations to political party committees during session

A change in campaign finance laws would allow lobbyists to donate to party committees for the House and Senate during the legislative session.

House Bill 2381, which was advanced by the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee on Thursday, would address what Republicans say is a fairness issue.

House and Senate Democrats already have political action committees, grandfathered in before legislation in 1990, that can fundraise during the session, Rep. Mario Goico, R-Wichita, said.

House Republicans did not have a PAC before 1990 and have been barred from creating one. There is a Senate Republican PAC, but it’s not controlled by Senate leadership and has $500 in its account, said Carol Williams, executive director of the Governmental Ethics Commission, the state agency tasked with monitoring political contributions.

Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, said there would be an outcry from the media if Republicans were able to raise funds while Democrats were not.

This legislation would create four political committees, one for each party in each chamber that could accept donations. Williams said legislators, though barred from soliciting contributions for their own campaigns during the session, could seek donations for the party committees.

“If a legislator wanted to send a letter out on their letterhead, saying, ‘Hey, the Senate Republican Leadership Committee is having a fundraiser Thursday night at the wherever, please come,’ they can now do that,” Williams said.

“It’s much easier to raise funds when you have a captive audience in those four months,” Williams said. “My guess would be that it would be like prior to 1990 that the major fundraising events for those (party committees) would take place during the session.”

Clay Barker, the executive director of the state Republican Party, said in an e-mail that the party committees are separate from political action committees. Party committees are governed by different rules, and this legislation simply lets them fundraise during the session, he said.

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, the Ethics and Elections Committee’s ranking member, said she opposes the bill, though she did not say that during the meeting.

“During the session some people are able to interact better with more lobbyists, more entities and ask for that money. And (that) … gives us an unfair playing field,” Faust-Goudeau said. “This is going to further allow the election of people who are not as close to the people.”

Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, another committee member, questioned how Faust-Goudeau could oppose the bill.

“We need to be consistent,” O’Donnell said.

“If anyone sees a concern about the Republicans being able to raise money during the session, they should still be concerned that the Democrats raise money during the session,” he said.