Kansas ethics commission to evaluate factors influencing waiver of campaign finance penalties

Members of KGEC interested in crafting framework for weighing appeals

By: - May 25, 2023 9:45 am
The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, which administers campaign finance reporting law, will consider drafting guidelines for use in considering appeals of financial penalties. (Kansas Reflector screen capture of KGEC's YouTube channel)

The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, which administers campaign finance reporting law, will consider drafting guidelines for use in considering appeals of financial penalties. (Kansas Reflector screen capture of KGEC’s YouTube channel)

TOPEKA — The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission voted to waive the $1,000 fine against the Geary County Republican Central Committee’s treasurer for failure to adhere to the state’s campaign finance reporting law.

Members of the commission also dismissed $300 fines against the treasurer of the defunct Prairie Roots political action committee and a lobbyist with the anti-abortion organization Kansans for Life.

Others appealing campaign finance penalties Wednesday weren’t as fortunate. Decisions were made to hold a former Douglas County Commission candidate, a lobbyist with Kansas Policy Institute and the treasurer of Pawnee County’s GOP central committee accountable for paying $300 fines.

Rachael McGinnis Millsap, a lobbyist with KC Healthy Kids, and Danedri Herbert, who worked at AFEP with a lobbyist of Americans for Prosperity, were ordered to shell out $1,000 each for reporting transgressions.

Herbert, an experienced political operative in Kansas, said her lobbying report was filed late because she was preoccupied with responsibilities of a job in the office of Attorney General Kris Kobach.

“I messed up,” Herbert said in an letter to the commission seeking waiver of the maximum $1,000 fine. “I apologize for being addle-brained and ask for your mercy.”

Mark Skoglund, executive director of the commission, said he wouldn’t have opposed a reduction of Herbert’s penalty.

No one of the commission agreed, but the hit-or-miss voting on appeals led to discussion of how commission members placed their fingers on the scale to either enforce or waive penalties.

Attorney Kyle Krull, a member of the commission for 13 years and appointed by Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, suggested commissioners consider individual cases based on a set of agreed-upon factors. He suggested decisions could be influenced by whether a person was a candidate, treasurer or lobbyist and whether a veteran of the political process or a rookie. He said an offender’s degree of cooperation should be taken into account along with complications beyond an individual’s control, including postal delivery failure.

“It would be very helpful perhaps if we just sort of had some general sentencing guidelines,” Krull said.

Skoglund said KGEC had previously resisted establishment of a penalty structure tied to an algorithm that determined assessments of people responsible for providing the public with timely and accurate information about financing of political activities.

The state’s campaign finance act sets deadlines for submitting reports of receipts and expenditures by political campaigns, lobbyists and organizations.

Nicholas Hale, the commission’s chairman and an appointee of Gov. Laura Kelly, said a framework outlining mitigating or aggravating factors would be helpful. He indicated the topic could be placed on the commission’s agenda in June with time set aside to consider public comment.

“The more structure we have in making these determinations … taking away the arbitrary nature or the arbitrary perception of the way that we come to these conclusions, I think would be helpful,” Hale said.

Commissioner Chris Burger, an attorney appointed by the Kansas House speaker, said he would welcome discussion about providing regulatory clarity for people with a direct role in campaign finance disclosures in Kansas.

“Part of me is saying these rules either matter or they don’t,” he said. “If they really don’t matter, I’m kind of confused as to why we do this at all as far as a waiver.”

On Wednesday, the nine appeals resulted in commission action to uphold five penalties, reduce one fine and waive three others.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.