State lawmakers must have checked common sense at the door whenever they decided to allow “the personal staff of any elected officer” to work on political campaigns while on the job. If these staffers want to help elect or defeat candidates, they should do so on their own time.
The Eagle’s Bryan Lowry reported earlier this month that Kansas law considers it unlawful for the average employee in a school district or state agency to work on behalf of legislative candidates on the clock, but makes an exception for elected officers’ personal staff members.
So taxpayers covered the salary of the chief of staff of Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, as he traveled the state recruiting Democratic candidates earlier this year, Lowry wrote, and “Republican leadership offices similarly devote large chunks of staff time to recruitment and election efforts.”
A Facebook photograph posted on a Tuesday in June by the state Senate campaign of Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, included staff members of Gov. Sam Brownback and Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita. …
State law doesn’t even provide a way to track how much tax money ends up subsidizing work to elect or defeat candidates.
Representatives for Attorney General Derek Schmidt and state Treasurer Ron Estes said no employee in either office is using staff time to do campaign work this year.
But Eileen Hawley, Brownback’s spokeswoman, would not disclose to Lowry whether any of the governor’s 20 or so staff members were working on campaigns on the job, nor whether the governor makes them take leave to do political work. …
If lawmakers and other elected officials somehow think this is a proper way for certain state employees to spend state dollars, let them at least set out a process to ensure disclosure and accountability.
But there’s a reason why many other states do not allow such politicking on the taxpayer dime or at government offices. Kansas’ loophole for “personal” staffers also unevens the playing field for candidates, especially nonincumbents, who happen to lack connections and champions in state government.
The misuse of staff time and tax funds — made more indefensible in Kansas by the state’s budget struggles — should be ended by the 2017 Legislature.
— The Wichita Eagle