Kansas taxpayers should know their tax dollars are helping staff campaigns for political office.
As reported by the Wichita Eagle, it is perfectly allowable for some Kansas state government employees to work on political campaigns.1
Not all Kansas state government employees can work on campaigns while being paid by taxpayers. Only personal staff members of elected officials can. But this can be quite a large number of people. The Eagle reports that Governor Sam Brownback has 21 personal staff members.
It’s not only the governor that has taxpayer-paid employees on the campaign trail. The Eagle also reports that a member of Senate President Susan Wagle‘s office has been on the campaign trail.
That senate employee, along with an employee of the governor’s office, were spotted campaigning for Gene Suellentrop. His Facebook page seemed pleased with their participation, again according to Eagle reporting:
Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, who is seeking the vacant seat in Senate District 27, posted a photo of himself and 10 campaign door walkers on Facebook last month with a message saying, “The Suellentrop for Senate crew! Coming soon to your door step.”
The photo, posted on June 14, a Tuesday, includes Ashley Moretti, a member of Brownback’s staff, and Eric Turek, who works for Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.
“Those two showed up late that afternoon on their own, I have not requested any help from any leadership,” Suellentrop said in an e-mail. “They were sure happy to get into a picture of our winning campaign.”
The first question the taxpayers of Kansas ought to ask is this: If these taxpayer-paid staff members have time to work on political campaigns, who is doing the work of the people of Kansas in their absence? What tasks are postponed so that these staff members can work on campaigns?
The answer to this question, I’m afraid, is that there are too many staff members.
The second question we should ask is this: Why is this practice allowed? There is a ruling from the ethics commission that allows this use of personal staff. Which leads to the third question: Why hasn’t the legislature passed a law to prohibit this practice?
The answer to that last question, I’m afraid, is that the ruling class protects its own. For example, there is an organization known as the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Its job is to re-elect Republican senate incumbents. It doesn’t say this, but that is what it does. This is representative of the attitude of the political class. Once most officeholders have been in office a few years, they comfortably transition to the political class. Thereafter, their most important job is their re-election campaign, followed closely by the campaigns of their cronies.
This is why you see Brownback and Wagle lending taxpayer-funded staff to the Suellentrop campaign. Should he be elected to the Kansas Senate, well, how can’t he be grateful?
Here’s what needs to happen.
First, this process must stop. Even though it is allowable, it is not right. We need leaders that recognize this. (Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty.)
Second. The trio of Suellentrop, Brownback, and Wagle need to reimburse Kansas taxpayers for the salaries of these staff for the time spent working on campaigns. (We should not blame the staff members. It’s the bosses and rule makers that are the problem.)
Third. Brownback and Wagle need to send staff to work for Suellentrop’s Republican challenger to the same degree they worked on the Suellentrop campaign. Either that, or make a contribution of the same value of the campaign services these taxpayer-funded Kansas state government workers supplied. Any other candidate in a similar situation — that of having taxpayer funds used to campaign against them — should receive the same compensation.
Now, some may be wondering how is this different from the governor endorsing senate candidates in 2012. It’s one matter for an officeholder to endorse a candidate. It’s an entirely different matter to send taxpayer-paid staff to work on campaigns. I hope that didn’t happen in 2012.
Fourth. Apologies to Kansas taxpayers are in order, as is a quick legislative fix. And, a reduction in personal staff members, as — obviously — there are too many.
Finally, thanks to the Eagle’s Bryan Lowry for this reporting.
- Lowry, Bryan. Taxpayer-funded campaign staff can knock at Kansans’ doors. Wichita Eagle, July 17, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/election/article90179637.html. ↩