TOPEKA — Conservative activist Mark Gietzen received a $5,000 fine from the state ethics commission for failure to submit timely campaign receipt-and-expenditure reports in the wake of an unsuccessful bid for mayor of Wichita.
Gietzen, founder of the Kansas Coalition for Life, missed deadlines for submitting reports in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Those documents have now been completed, according to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, but the case wasn’t dismissed because Gietzen had a track record of noncompliance after racking up $2,860 in civil penalties for violations of campaign law. Of that total, $1,500 had been assessed by the commission in 2020 and 2021.
“Typically, a history of civil penalties indicates that they may not be taking deadlines as seriously as perhaps they should,” said Mark Skoglund, executive director of the ethics commission.
Gietzen, who essentially entered a guilty plea Wednesday in the latest case, was familiar with the Kansas campaign-finance system after running for the Kansas Legislature at least five times as well as conducting the race for mayor in 2019.
In addition to confessing to neglecting to adhere to deadlines, Gietzen recommended he not be fined any amount given the burden of previous financial penalties.
“I absolutely was late in filing the report. I was 100% guilty,” Gietzen said. “I didn’t know late fees would be this high.”
He blamed the delay on a personal computer malfunction and was critical of Cybertron and Best Buy in Wichita for inability of those companies to resolve technical issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I thought it would be a minor computer glitch, but it turned out to be the biggest computer problem I’ve ever had. I apologize for being late. I’m embarrassed by it. I can guarantee I’ll never have a late report again,” he said.
In the middle of answering a question from a commissioner about relevance of previous campaign-finance fines, Gietzen launched into a speech about the health dangers of adding fluoride into municipal drinking water supplies. He had to be redirected to the question of a fine.
“My recommendation and request is, respectfully, that there be no further fine,” Gietzen said.
The commission didn’t accept his broken-computer excuse and voted to assess a $5,000 penalty. He was ordered to pay that amount and $600 in outstanding civil penalties for a total of $5,600. If he doesn’t make that payment within 60 days, the commission said, the overall amount owed would be raised to $7,500.
The nine-member commission could have fined Gietzen $15,000 for three counts of failure to comply reporting deadlines.
“With all due respect to Mr. Gietzen, I am not comfortable in any way, shape or form with his walk-away proposal,” said commissioner Todd Scharnhorst. “We need to take violations seriously. When there is a 100% agreement that there was a violation of Kansas law, we need to take that seriously. In my view, we don’t and should not let people walk, regardless of the circumstances.”
Scharnhorst said computer problems were no justification for neglecting numerous notices from commission staff to take care of his campaign-finance reporting responsibilities.
“It’s more of a procrastination issue than a real computer problem. I think that fine is sufficient to deter future violations and also to motivate prompt payment,” said commissioner Ken Moore.
In the Wichita mayor’s race in August 2019, Gietzen finished fifth in a nine-person field. He was a founder of the Kansas Coalition for Life and has led the Kansas Republican Assembly.