Thursday, April 17, 2014

HAWVER: Is anti-Kobach bill constitutional?

By MARTIN HAWVER, At the Rail | 3/4/2013

Now, let’s just say your dog and your neighbor’s dog are in a contest over which is cutest.

And let’s say your neighbor is the judge.

Now, let’s just say your dog and your neighbor’s dog are in a contest over which is cutest.

And let’s say your neighbor is the judge.

Something wrong here? Of course there is.

Well, the Kansas Senate saw virtually the same situation last week, and it probably made the right decision, though in a different arena.

The conservative Republican-dominated Senate decided the Kansas secretary of state — that’s conservative Republican Kris Kobach — ought not to have a political action committee (PAC) that contributes to the election campaign of candidates whose elections he might have to oversee (potentially deciding the winner).

Why? Because it looks ... what’s the polite term? Oh, unseemly.

Yes, Kobach’s Prairie Fire PAC contributed about $30,000 to the campaigns of candidates for the Kansas Senate, part of a much wider effort by conservative Republicans to kick moderate Republicans out of the Kansas Senate. It worked.

There weren’t any two- or three-vote victories or defeats in the Kansas Senate elections last year.

But, Kobach’s Prairie Fire PAC did contribute about $5,000 to conservative state Rep. Joe Patton, R-Topeka, against moderate state Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, in the hotly contested Republican primary election. Schmidt won, 5,747 to 5,587, a margin of just 162 votes in which Schmidt won 50.7 percent of the vote, Patton 49.2 percent.

It was close, but not that close, and the decision was pretty clear that Kobach’s puppy wasn’t the cutest.

Oh, Kobach did contribute to campaigns of eight conservative Republican Senate candidates who won their elections. Last week, six of those Kobach-picks voted against a bill that would douse his colorfully named Prairie Fire.

Simply, the bill says, “The secretary of state shall not establish any political committee, a major purpose of which is to expressly advocate the nomination, election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for the Legislature or statewide office or make contributions or expenditures for the nomination, election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for the Legislature or a statewide office” — except his own, of course.

Now, is this a First Amendment conflict? Chances are good that the secretary of state — like corporations — has the constitutional right to operate a PAC. And, there’s a decent chance that Kobach, law professor that he is, would enjoy challenging the constitutionality of the prohibition if it becomes law.

But the secretary of state contributing to campaigns on elections he conducts? Feels a little funny in your stomach, doesn’t it?

That might be the real test.

The Senate-passed bill now goes to the House, where Kobach didn’t make any political action committee contributions to anyone. We’ll have to see how they react ... on an empty stomach.

Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report. Visit his website at www.hawvernews.com

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