News that Wink Hartman has loaned more than $1.5 million to Kris Kobach’s campaign for governor should concern Kansas voters.
Campaign loans from candidates are problematic because they open the door to potential pay-for-play problems after the election.
Hartman, a weathly businessman, is Kobach’s running mate. His loan comprises the bulk of Kobach’s spending in his race to win the Republican nomination for governor.
Had Hartman simply given the campaign $1.5 million, he would be on safer ground. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that candidates can spend unlimited amounts of their own money on campaigns.
“The First Amendment simply cannot tolerate (restricting) the freedom of a candidate to speak without legislative limit on behalf of his own candidacy,” the court has said.
Loans are different. If a candidate lends money to a campaign, he or she clearly expects to be repaid. Where will the money come from to repay the loan? From political fundraising, of course.
Losing candidates find it tough to raise cash after an election. For winners, the task is easier: Would-be donors know elected candidates are in a position to provide favors for supporters who write a post-election check.
If Kobach and Hartman are elected, for example, donors will know that both the governor and lieutenant governor will be in a position to hand out specific benefits in return for donations. And because the donations will be used to repay a loan, the money won’t pay for campaign commercials or mail pieces, but will just go into Hartman’s pocket.
That possibility should worry anyone interested in good government. …
There are ways to address this concern. Kansas and Missouri could simply prohibit campaign loans from candidates, or each state could require all loans to be repaid before Election Day. Alternatively, lawmakers could prohibit winning candidates from raising money to retire their own debt.
Losing candidates, who aren’t in a position to influence policy, could still ask for donations to repay a loan. But winning candidates would lose the ability to extract money for political favors.
There are likely to be efforts in 2019 to improve ethics in Topeka and Jefferson City. The list of problems is long. But one priority should be eliminating of the pay-to-play conflicts inherent in massive self-lending to campaigns.
— The Kansas City Star