One can ask hypothetical questions and get guidance about Kansas Law and ethics rules from the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, but once specific information about any wrongdoing is provided to the Commission, there is no way to find what action, if any, the Commission takes. Kansans need more transparency in the operation of the Commission.
At today’s monthly meeting of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, a civil fine hearing was scheduled for January 2009 when there may be sanctions against a citizen, Kris Van Meteren, for bringing a complaint of wrongdoing to the commission, and then talking to the press about the complaint. Don’t we have a Constitutional First Amendment right in Kansas to freedom of speech, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances? How can the government silence an accuser, or fine an accuser, in any way?
Meanwhile, the subject of the original complaint, Senator Dwayne Umbarger (R, Thayer), was allowed to quietly “fix” the problems in his campaign reports, and was not subject to any hearing or fine. In Kansas, will an accuser in an ethics complaint be fined for talking to the press, when the subject of the complaint is not subject to any sanction when money had been improperly spent?
A civil fine determination hearing will be held on Jan 21, 2008 at 2:30 PM in the Ethics Commission conference room about the two counts the Commission’s Special Investigator, Bill Beightel, is alleging against Kris Van Meteren:
Count 1. On or after Oct. 15, 2008, Kristian D. Van Meteren disclosed to Phil La Certe, blogger for KansasLiberty.com, the filing of and allegations contained in Complaint No. 422, filed by Kristian D. Van Meteren on Sept 17, 2008, amended on Oct. 8, 2008, and amended on Oct 15, 2008 …
Count 2. On or after Oct. 15, 2008, Kristian D. Van Meteren disclosed to Tim Carpenter, reporter for the Topeka Capital Journal, … [the same as in Count 1]
The complaint says the Commission has the authority to assess a civil fine of up to $5000 for the first count, and $10,000 for the second count.
These two counts leveled against Van Meteren apparently are directly related to his accusations against State Senator Dwayne Umbarger reported by the press:
- New campaign finance charges leveled against Umbarger, Kansas Liberty, Oct 20, 2008.
- A carport, fuel and a hotel, Topeka Capital Journal, Oct 19, 2008.
[The Meadowlark's original report about this was on Aug 7 in this article: Did Senator Umbarger violate ethics rules buying a carport with campaign money? Umbarger clairvoyant?]
How do these two counts against Van Meteren hold water? Let’s look at the conflicting laws:
First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
How can Kansas Law be constitutional when it infringes on Van Meteren’s right to freedom of speech, and his right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances?
KSA 25-4161(b): Whenever a complaint is filed with the commission alleging a violation of a provision of the campaign finance act, such filing and the allegations therein shall be confidential and shall not be disclosed except as provided in the campaign finance act.
There was no mention of Senator Umbarger or Kris Van Meteren in the portion of today’s meeting that was open to the public. A review of the minutes from the Nov 19, 2008 Governmental Ethics Commission meeting shows there was no mention of the investigation of Senator Umbarger, nor any mention of the repayment by Senator Umbarger for his incorrect report. Minutes of the Oct 15, 2008 meeting have not been obtained, but the two counts above are for violations after Oct 15.
Is the only “sanction” against Senator Umbarger this Oct 30 Topeka Capital Journal article?
Sen. Dwayne Umbarger has repaid $4,400 to his re-election campaign to cover expenditures tied to an ethics complaint filed by a political rival.
Umbarger’s latest campaign finance report outlined more than a dozen reimbursements tied to the purchase of a carport installed at his home in southeast Kansas, rental of a Topeka hotel room and bills for “campaign fuel” from a gas station in his hometown of Thayer.
Umbarger, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said Wednesday he couldn’t publicly address details of the case because of confidentiality rules enforced by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.
The “wrongdoer” can hide behind confidentiality and punish the “accuser” because of confidentiality?
If we report a crime to the police in Kansas, should we be silenced from talking to the press about it? How is reporting an ethics violation any different?
Our Kansas Laws need reform.
- KRA and The Meadowlark get their crazy on together, Kansas Jackass, Dec 19, 2008.
[Editor's note: The last line of the article above, "Our Kansas Laws need reform," was the point of the article. Why the Democrats at the Kansas Jackass won't support improved government transparency with better checks and balances on the extraordinary power and secrecy of the Ethics Commission is not understood. This article is no longer online.]
- Talking to press attracts Ethics Commission ire, Kansas Liberty, Dec 18, 2008.
- Fines and other actions by the Ethics Commission at their December meeting, Kansas Meadowlark, Dec 18, 2008.
- New ethics commissioner in Kansas. Updated political profile of Ethics Commission, Kansas Meadowlark, Aug 30, 2008.