After a secret Executive Session held by telephone conference call today, the Ethics Commission announced the complaint was being dropped against Kris Van Meteren for violation of Ethics Commission confidentiality rules. Van Meteren was fined $7500 in Feb. by the Ethics Commission.
The letter signed by Chief Counsel and Deputy Attorney General Michael C. Leitch said:
“… we believe that statutes and regulations requiring confidentiality from those who file complaints against public officials are unconstitutional.”
Van Meteren’s attorney later released a statement (see full text below)
This afternoon, under the pressure of litigation, the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has fully and completely recanted and rescinded its findings and the $7,500 fine it had previously imposed on my client, Kristian Van Meteren, for exercising his constitutionally protected rights to free speech.
By vacating its prior order after challenge in court, the Commission has both tacitly and, through its counsel at the Kansas Attorney General’s Office, expressly conceded that its actions violated Mr. Van Meteren’s constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech. As such, today’s action is a victory for the liberties of all Kansans.
Unfortunately, though Mr. Van Meteren’s legal rights have been clearly vindicated and he has emerged from this litigation victorious, it has not been without cost. This episode illustrates clearly the abuses that can occur when agents of the State choose to use their power to advance a political agenda, to reward friends, and to discourage political opponents. In fact, were it not for my client’s commitment to liberty, his resources, and his dogged adherence to his clearly protected rights, the Commission would not have been forced to this decision and the speech of all Kansans would remain constrained. While today’s victory is clear, only continued vigilance on the part of citizens can protect against these kinds of abuses in the future.
As such, today’s decision does not end this matter. Mr. Van Meteren has been damaged by the Commission’s actions in having to expend time, energy, and financial resources to clear his good name. In addition, he has suffered the indignities of the Commission’s actions and prior public statements. We fully intend to evaluate Mr. Van Meteren’s options to pursue further recourse in federal courts for this clear and admitted violation.
Finally, we call on the Kansas Legislature to immediately address the unconstitutional statutes and regulations of the Commission at the convening of the 2010 session. Nothing short of a full review and rewrite of those laws will prevent such abuses from occurring in the future.
The Ethics Commission asked its staff today to start reviewing existing regulations and to propose changes to comply with the opinion of the Attorney General’s Office.
Perhaps Van Meteren’s case in Federal Court will help get to the bottom of how Senator Umbarger found out about his complaint, and then submitted updates to campaign reports to avoid the original ethics complaint filed by Van Meteren.
See links to related stories below.
Here is the opinion released by the Kansas Attorney General about the constitutionality of the Ethics Commission’s confidentiality rules:
Constitutionality of Kansas Ethics Commission Confidentiality Rules
Here is the press release from Van Meteren’s attorney after the announcement by the Ethics Commission that the complaint against him was being dropped:
Stegall Press Release 5.13.09
- Ethics Commission caves on Van Meteren charge, Kansas Liberty, May 13, 2009.
- State ethics fine reversed, Topeka Capital-Journal, May 13, 2009.
- Kansas Ethics Commission’s Response to Van Meteren’s Request for Judicial Review, Kansas Meadowlark, May 12, 2009.
- Van Meteren to appeal $7500 Fine for Free Speech in District Court, Kansas Meadowlark, March 27, 2009.
- “Free Speech” May Cost Kansas Citizen $7500, Kansas Meadowlark, Feb 18, 2009.
- Complaint 424, Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, Feb 2009.
- Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, Complaint 424, Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, Feb 2009.
- First Amendment Defense Thorny Issue for Ethics Commission, Kansas Meadowlark, Jan 21, 2009.
- 1st Amendment Constitutional Right may become issue in Kansas Ethics Commission Hearing in January. Silence the accuser?, Kansas Meadowlark, Dec 17, 2008.
- Did Senator Umbarger violate ethics rules buying a carport with campaign money? Umbarger clairvoyant?, Kansas Meadowlark, Aug 7, 2008.