Gabel campaign literature ruled not advocacy

6/20/2014

By Mary Clarkin

By Mary Clarkin

The Hutchinson News

(MCT) --A circular encouraging conservative Republicans to challenge the re-election of eight moderate Republicans — including State Reps. Steven Becker, Buhler; John Doll, Garden City; and Don Hineman, Dighton — is not "express advocacy."

It came up to the line but did not cross it, said Dan Harden, chairman of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. He voted with the majority Wednesday in a 5-3 vote.

The commission discussed it for about 10 minutes and concluded it was more like a brochure encouraging people to run than the express advocacy of the election or defeat of a candidate, said Carol Williams, executive director of the Governmental Ethics Commission.

Wichita Republican Craig Gabel's Kansans For Liberty News sheet was distributed around the state ahead of the June 2 filing deadline. The other five incumbents targeted were: Reps. Melissa Rooker, Fairway; Blaine Finch, Ottawa; Diana Dierks, Salina; Don Hill, Emporia; and Tom Moxley, Council Grove.

"Without candidates to run against these progressives in the Republican Primary the progressive and liberal agenda goes forward," it said. "Should you decide to consider running for any of these positions (or others) we would be glad to assist you in any way possible," it also offered.

Gabel had told The News it was educational material, not express advocacy literature, which would have required the filing of an income and expense campaign report in July.

On Thursday when The News asked Gabel about the commission's verdict, he said, "I agree."

The literature didn't say specifically to vote for or against any individual, said Harden, a professor emeritus. It didn't cross any specific line that would specifically endorse anyone, he said, although one could assume those behind the literature weren't too happy with the eight incumbents.

Voting in the minority was Andy Taylor, editor of the Montgomery County Chronicle. For him, the Kansans For Liberty News literature did not pass the smell test.

On first blush seeing the sheet, Taylor said, he thought, "This thing looks like campaign literature."

The statute listing the eight qualities of express advocacy carries the caveat that express advocacy is not limited to those eight things, Taylor noted. He thinks the Legislature was wise when it crafted the law and included that caveat, which allows interpretation.

Taylor said he's among the few non-attorneys on the commission and he tends to go with the common-sense approach. He thought it crossed the line into advocacy by seeking the defeat of certain lawmakers, even though it didn't have that specific language.

Those commissioners voting in the 5-3 majority, and who they were appointed to the Ethics Commission by, were: Harden, governor; Willa DeCastro, Senate president; Kyle Krull, secretary of state; Mark Simpson, House minority leader; James Ward, governor.

Voting in the minority: Taylor, attorney general; John Solbach, Senate minority leader; James Meier, speaker of the House.

Only one of the eight incumbents — Finch — drew a conservative Republican challenger.

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