Kansas needs pay-to-play laws
In Wichita, campaign contributions made to city council candidates are often not about supporting political ideologies
liberal, moderate, or conservative. Instead, the contributions are from opportunistsseeking money from government. Pay-to-play laws can help control this harmful practice.
In the wake of scandals some states and citieshave passed "pay-to-play" laws. These laws mayprohibit political campaign contributions bythose who seek government contracts, prohibitofficeholders from voting on laws that willbenefit their campaign donors, or the laws mayimpose special disclosure requirements.Many people make campaign contributions tocandidates whose ideals and goals they share.This is an important part of our politicalprocess
. But when reading campaign financereports for members of the Wichita CityCouncil, one sees the same names appearingover and over
, often making the maximumallowed contribution to candidates.And when one looks at the candidates thesepeople contribute to, you notice that oftenthere's no common thread linking the politicalgoals and ideals of the candidates. Some peoplecontribute equally to liberal and conservativecouncil members. But then, when these peopleappear in the news after having received moneyfrom the Wichita City Council, it snaps intoplace:
These campaign donors are not donatingto those whose political ideals they agree with.Instead, they're donating so they can line theirown pockets. These donors are opportunists.
As another example, for the 2008 campaign fora bond issue for USD 259 (Wichita public schooldistrict), my analysis found that 72 percent of the contributions, both in-kind and cash, wasgiven by contractors, architects, engineeringfirms, and others who directly stand to benefitfrom school construction. Do these companieshave an especially keen interest in theeducation of children? I don't think so. They areinterested in themselves.Some states and cities have taken steps toreduce this harmful practice. New Jersey isnotable for its Local Unit Pay-To-Play Law. Thelaw affects many local units of government andthe awarding of contracts having a value of over$17,500, requiring that these contracts beawarded by a "fair and open process," whichbasically means a contract process open tobidding.Cities, too, are passing pay-to-pay laws.Notably, a recently-passed law in Dallas was inresponse to special treatment for real estatedevelopers -- the
very issue Wichita is facingnow as it prepares to pour millions into thepockets of a small group of favored -- andhighly subsidized -- downtown developers whoare generous with campaign contributions toalmost all council members
. Not that this isnew to Wichita, as the city has often done thisin the past.Smaller cities, too, have these laws. A charterprovision of the city of Santa Ana, in OrangeCounty, California, states: "A councilmembershall not participate in, nor use his or her officialposition to influence, a decision of the CityCouncil if it is reasonably foreseeable that thedecision will have a material financial effect,apart from its effect on the public generally or asignificant portion thereof, on a recent majorcampaign contributor."But Kansas has no such law. Certainly Wichitadoes not, where pay-to-play is seen by manycitizens as a way of life.In Kansas, campaign finance reports are filed bycandidates and available to citizens. But manypoliticians don't want campaign contributionsdiscussed, at least in public. Recently Wichita