Thursday, March 17, 2005


Right-wing PACs Channel Big Bucks to Conservatives on Kansas Board of Education

Shadowy Network Finds a Way Around Campaign Finance Limits

It's well known in Kansas that Attorney General Phill Kline and the six-member conservative majority on the state school board attempted to evade the state's open meetings act. The Feb. 8 meetings -- where Kline told conservatives he supports placing stickers on Kansas Biology textbooks -- were kept secret from board moderates and the public.

Six Kansas news organizations have filed suit against the board and the attorney general, and some legislators have asked the Shawnee prosecutor to open an investigation.

Less well known, until now, is the network of interlocking conservative political action committees that have been constructed to skirt Kansas campaign finance laws and channel money to conservatives on the board.

Kansas law limits contributions to state school board candidates from individuals and political action committees to $500 dollars each primary and general election cycle.

Just as they found a way to get around the open meetings act, conservative board members -- who believe they are doing God's work -- have found a way to get around campaign contribution limits, as well.

How do they do it? These contributions are legal only because they are divided between FAIR's state and federal PACs -- each of which can give up to $500 during the primary and the general election.

The state and federal FAIR PACs are astroturf groups (shell organizations that exist only to parcel out money) that share a post office box with the Kansas Republican Victory Fund -- which also has state and federal PACs. Both are associated with and share a post office box with the right-wing Kansas Republican Assembly.

Marilee Martin, the Kansas Republican Assembly Treasurer, is also the Treasurer of FAIR and the Kansas Republican Victory Fund. All three organizations, and their state and federal PACS, list PO Box 626, Topeka, KS 66601 as their address.

According to Federal Election Commission records, the Kansas Republican Victory Fund received $2,900 from FAIR in 2002 and $2,100 in 2004. Although Kansas Republican Victory Fund reported to the FEC that it is unaffiliated with any political party, it nevertheless gives 100 percent of its money to Republican candidates.

In addition to the money she got from FAIR, Iris Van Meter, took in campaign contributions, spread across the primary and general election cycles, of $750 from the Kansas Republican Victory Fund Federal PAC and $800 from the Kansas Republican Victory Fund State PAC in 2002. Van Meter also reports a contribution from the Kansas Republican Assembly, which is run by her son, Kris Van Meteren.

In 2002, Ken Willard, reported contributions of $1,000 from the Kansas Republican Victory Fund Federal PAC and $1,000 from the Kansas Republican Victory Fund State PAC in a two-month period that straddled the primary and general election reporting periods.

Connie Morris also reports donations of $500 each from the Kansas Republican Victory Fund state and federal PACs.

Top FAIR contributors include Nancy Hannahan, Harold C. Hutcheson, and Dennis L. Marten who also made substantial contributions to five of the six conservative board members: Steve Abrams, Connie Morris, Kathy Martin, Iris Van Meter, and Ken Willard.

John Calvert, of the Intelligent Design Network, who now seems to have a special relationship with the school board sub-committee which announced recently it will hold Scopes style hearings on evolution later this year, is also a contributor.

Calvert made political contributions to Abrams, Morris, and Martin, all members of the conservative sub-committee that has short-circuited the existing curriculum development process in favor of public hearings.

Certainly, the privileged relationship granted to John Calvert -- and intelligent design proponent William Harris -- by conservative board members gives the appearance of impropriety.

The ideological divisions between conservatives who support intelligent design or creation science on the one hand and moderates who support evolution on the other has meant that once sleepy state school board elections -- most often run out of pocket by candidates -- are now much more costly.

In 2002, conservatives who were up for election such as Connie Morris raised $18,279. Iris Van Meter, who did not speak to the media during her campaign, raked in the most, reporting $31,539 in contributions. Ken Willard took in $28,959.

The incestuous relationships between FAIR, Kansas Republican Victory Fund, Kansas Republican Assembly, their state and local PACs, and their leading contributors, raise serious questions about whether the spirit of the campaign finance law has been skirted.

In coming months, the board seems likely to throw out the work of scientists and educators on the science standards committee, and introduce intelligent design into the Kansas science curriculum. If they do, many Kansans may be left wondering whether that decision was influenced by large sums of money channeled to conservative board members by a shadowy network of right-wing PACs that have found a way around limits on campaign contributions.

Note: As I was posting this, it was announced that the board sub-committee may be moving away from public hearings and toward taking written testimony. More on this later...

Josh Rosenau has additional information on the financial relationships between board conservatives and Philly Kline on his Thoughts From Kansas bloc.


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?