My Response to House Bill No. 2244 aka the “Sean Tevis Bill”
On Wednesday, February 4, 2009, Representative Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) introduced House Bill No. 2244. It is being referred to as the “Sean Tevis Bill”.
This bill would require candidates to file a public report with your full name and your home address on it if you donate less than $50 to a political campaign. Currently, if you donate $49.99 or less, your personal information is not required to be reported.
For example, you can donate $1 right now and not have to worry about your personal information appearing on a list of people who give money. After this bill passes, you may, or you may not, have your personal information reported and you will have no idea if it will be reported or not.
It would appear at first glance that the purpose of this bill is to increase government transparency. What makes this bill unusual, however, is that it would only apply if the candidate you support raises more than $1,000 in other small donations. That’s an odd provision. Why are some small donations not worth reporting and others are?
Maybe it’s because in 2008, there was only been one candidate to raise more than $1,000 in small donations. Me. Representative Schwab has written a bill not to increase government transparency, but to target me or any other future candidate who tries to avoid taking lobbyist money by asking for small donations.
Why We Have Campaign Finance Reporting Laws
Our campaign finance laws are meant primarily so that the public can know what persons or organizations might be attempting to purchase access or influence with our politicians.
For instance, Monsanto Corporation, a maker of fertilizers and chemicals, gave Representative Schwab $250 five days before the election in November. We deserve to know about this because he may feel indebted to Monsanto and introduce legislation to unfairly favor their profit interests over public health. If he introduces a House Bill to loosen regulations about what chemicals may be used on Kansas farms we now know that he may be self-serving and paying back his benefactors.
Reporting the names and addresses of these large amount donors is a way for us to measure a politician’s credibility on an issue.
Why Haven’t Candidates Been Required to Report Small Donations Before?
There are three reasons:
1) No Indebtedness
You give $1 to a candidate. It’s a pretty safe bet that they won’t feel indebted to you. If you give them $100, they might. You give a candidate $1,000 they will probably drop everything to take your call. Money helps win elections and candidates are always looking for more, sadly. Reporting the name and address of someone donating $1 does not address the reasons why we established campaign finance reporting laws. Reporting the name and address of someone donating $1,000 does.
Right now, you can donate $1 to a campaign and be confident that your name and address won’t appear on a donor list somewhere. Some people are very private. These people want to support candidates that they believe in, but they don’t want to have their names out there for marketers, scam artists, or for several personal reasons. One woman donated $49.99 to my campaign, noting that she didn’t want an ex-boyfriend to be able to find her. I thanked her and told her that her privacy would be protected. The $50 threshold allowed her to participate more actively in the direction of our state without fear of upsetting her personal life.
3) It Would Be More Work
All politicians have been candidates who have run for office. Generally, they don’t like to more work for themselves, especially if there is no benefit to them or the public.
It’s this third reason that I believe that Representative Schwab put in the $1,000 provision into his bill. He doesn’t want to fill out more paperwork himself.
The $1,000 threshold creates an unequal protection of privacy.
If you donate $1 to a candidate, you can expect that your personal information will remain private. If that candidate, however, crosses the arbitrary $1,000 threshold, which is beyond your control, then suddenly your reasonable expectation of privacy that other small donors enjoy is stripped from you.
• John gives $1 to Candidate A
• Mary gives $1 to Candidate B
• Candidate A *does not* raise more than $1,000 in small donations.
• Candidate B becomes very popular and she raises more than $1,000 in small donations.
The effect of this is that:
John’s personal information is safe.
Mary’s personal information is not safe.
Why should Mary be stripped of the same opportunity for personal privacy that John enjoys?
I strongly encourage any movement to make our government more transparent, our politicians more accountable, and our laws less susceptible to the influence of wealthy interest groups. This bill does none of that.
I challenge the Kansas Legislature to remove the arbitrary $1,000 threshold in House Bill No. 2244 that selectively and unequally punishes citizens. All candidates must report the same information for the same levels of donations.
Why Politicians are Bland
I’ve been blogging for 10 years. One of the things I struggled with was the idea of taking down my personal website a few months before the election.
I was told that this was a “must do” thing because my opponent would use photos of me wearing a Halloween costume or something in an attack ad. The photo of me wearing a coconut bra and a grass skirt from eight years ago I could almost be guaranteed to see in an ad, they said.
I didn’t want to believe it, but I acquiesced and took my weblog offline and even deleted the Google cache of it. I felt like I was removing a part of myself.
Then in the last weeks of the election, sure enough, silly and absurd photos of me appeared in attack pieces sent to my neighbors. I thought I’d see attacks based on my policy ideas perhaps, but no. The ads used silly photos of me on friends’ Flickr and Facebook accounts.
The first one I saw was me holding a glass of wine in a restaurant and calling me a far left liberal because, you know, if you drink wine you’re a liberal. I laughed it off as absurd. “No one will believe this.” I said.
And then came another attack ad with more silly pictures. And another.
I believe in political discourse, but I’ve seen that a good part of how we elect people is based on image. Does this mean our system is broken? I’m not sure.
At least I know why politicians always seem so bland — they’ve done a good job sanitizing their life. Or, at least, they don’t live in the online world.
Interview: 435 South Magazine
I was interviewed by 435 South magazine as one of Kansas City's "Innovators of the Year" last month. The edition was just published this week — too late to help me at the polls, but a welcome opportunity to talk about new ideas nonetheless. One of my favorite parts was this:
I'm still going to build it. I'll probably have to set up a foundation to do it, but I think it could be the prototype for something that any state could use.
As of the 8:16 p.m. update it's tied in a statistical dead heat.
As of the 10:28 pm, the (unofficial final) results in my district:
Unless the election office mysteriously finds a bunch of misplaced ballots, I lost by 4%. I'm a Democrat in a ruby red area. Here are how the Democrats in the districts sharing a boundary with mine did:North: -23%
I'm exhausted, both physically and emotionally. There are lots of thanks to go around, especially to you who are reading this.
We beat the spread. I'll post soon about what the last days were like - driving elderly people to the polls, dirty tricks that were played on us, and what the direct mail flyers with photos of me from friends' Facebook and Flickr accounts looked like.
Thank you again. — Sean
Siegfreid Fundraiser Invites Special Interest Money
Siegfreid Fundraiser Invites Special Interest Money to Pour In
$150 Per Plate Lunch Held Outside District With Only Special Interests Invited
OLATHE, KANSAS -- October 12, 2008 -- State Representative Arlen Siegfreid's campaign has invited lobbyists to a luncheon with him and U.S. Senator Sam Brownback at a privately owned golf club outside District 15 in Olathe, the district Siegfried represents.
The luncheon's location and venue leave Siegfreid's constituents to wonder when and where they will be allowed to voice concerns about his leadership in the Kansas House of Representatives. The event is Oct. 16 at Shadow Glen Golf Club, in northwest Olathe south of Kansas Highway 10.
Sean Tevis spokesperson Andrew Blobaum questions any event held outside the district that is restricted from public access.
"Mr. Siegfreid has once again made a decision that Topeka lobbyists' interests come before his constituents' interests," Blobaum said. "His lobbyist-first agenda has only hurt the people of the 15th District, and his first major public event of the campaign is a fundraiser that excludes his constituents from attendance without a large contribution."
Blobaum noted the Tevis campaign's commitment to the voters of the 15th District.
"As we move forward toward election day, Sean Tevis holds a public town hall meeting every Thursday at the Pizza Shoppe in his district where any citizen is welcome to come ask Sean the tough questions. We are not afraid to talk with voters and hear their concerns because we have taken no special interest money."
Blobaum also noted a discrepancy in the flier sent out to lobbyists.
"Representative Siegfreid's claim that he has accepted no 'out of state special interest money' is absolutely false. Unless our state has changed its borders since January 1, 2007, Mr. Siegfreid has accepted $5,675 from out-of-state special interest groups according to his campaign finance report filings."
The public is invited to voice concerns with Siegfreid's fundraising at Tevis' free public forum at 7 p.m. every Thursday at Pizza Shoppe, 736 W. Park St., Olathe.
About Sean Tevis
Sean Tevis received national media attention by asking 3,000 people to donate $8.34 each to his campaign so that he would not have to accept lobbyist's money. He set the Kansas State record for the must number of individual donors to a State Representative campaign with more than 6,200 donors.
He has been named one of five of Kansas City's "Top Innovators of the Year" by 435 South Magazine (November 2008 issue) and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and NPR's Morning Edition.
Sean Tevis was raised in Johnson County, Kansas, and is running for State Representative in District 15. He loves Olathe.
# # #
PRESSContact: Andrew Blobaum
The Story Behind the Cheese Balls
I sent out my first piece of direct mail this week. I decided that a good portion of it should be the postal mail equivalent of an introduction, much like I was meeting someone for the first time. It has a brief bio of me and has photos of my family on a hayride, some of me with my siblings, and a couple of photos of my wife, Michelle, and myself.
Except one of the photos had an issue. The printer called me as they were just beginning the press run and said that the nice portrait of me and my pregnant wife taken on a beautiful Fall day in front of our house had been “digitally mangled” somehow. The printer asked, “Did I have another I could quickly send them?”
“Yes,” I said. I searched my hard drive and found an alternative. It’s of both of us sitting inside a car dealership holding a bag of cheese balls. “It’ll have to do,” I thought, and sent it to the printer.
Now, when one gets a piece of mail from a political candidate, one wouldn’t normally expect to see him holding any kind of snack food. So here’s the story behind this unusual photo:
My wife and I were buying a car. I’ve taken courses in negotiation and I decided to exercise my skills to see what kind of deal I could arrange. I first argued on price and saw some results until the price became the lowest it could go. Then I tried to get “extras” thrown in — a nicer radio, maybe tires, or an extended warranty. I think the salesman caved on one or two things, but not much.
It looked like we’d reached the end of the negotiation, but I wanted one more thing and that’s when I spied a bag of cheese balls sitting behind his desk.
“Sir, you have a deal if you throw in that bag you have over there,” I said. He looked shocked, then smiled hugely. “Really? Well… done!” he said.
That’s the story of how I got a free bag of cheese balls with a several thousand dollar purchase. They were great.
And I hope to use those same tenacious negotiation skills to get the best possible deals for the people in my district of Olathe, Kansas.
Television Interview: HDNet World Report
HDNet World Report is a weekly news magazine that is very similar to 60 Minutes. Dan Rather was hired a few years ago to make their news division the best television news on cable, sort of like the HBO of news. It’s filmed in high definition and it airs in many countries worldwide.
They called me, they said, because I was doing something that no one had ever really done before and that I would be a perfect fit for their “Mavericks” series of profiles. The week before my segment aired, they had interviewed Bob Barr, the Libertarian Party nominee for President.
I’ve done some local TV interviews before, but this was a different experience and I was surprised at how much work it was. Four people flew to Kansas to make this happen - a camera man, a sound technician, a producer, and the interviewer/journalist, Paul Beban. They stayed for a day and a half.
My mom was invited to come over and talk, too. She told them a lot more than what made it into the final sequence - stories from my childhood, how hard I’ve been working, and how I lost my election for Student Body President in high school to movie actor Paul Rudd. This got the crew excited and they talked about using clips from “40 Year Old Virgin” or “Anchorman” during the segment, but thankfully they didn’t. I emailed Paul to give him a head’s up warning just in case they tried to call him.
The only thing that was edited out that I feel was really important was this: I created this unusual fundraising so I wouldn’t need to accept any lobbyist money. I could have raised all of the money I needed, if I’d been willing to let lobbyists have influence over my voting decisions. I feel that is wrong, and it is one of the main reasons our political system is broken. It’s one of the reason why I’m running against Arlen Siegfreid.
I think they made Olathe, Kansas look good. They talked about how we’re the place where the cowboy boot was invented and made it look like the charming community that it is. I figure the more that I can do to get the rest of the world to know how great Olathe is, the better.
At the Olathe Old Settler’s Parade
UPDATE: You can see more photos of the Sean Tevis for State Representative 'float' from the parade here.
I was walking around the Old Settler’s Festival Saturday afternoon, taking in the sights, when a young woman stopped, pointed at me, and just started laughing. This made me uneasy for a moment as this was eerily similar to how every girl treated me when I was 13.
I snapped back from horrible teenage memories when she walked up and shook my hand. She told me how much she loved my campaign’s entry in the parade that morning. “All those other old guy politicians ride in cars,” she said. “But you… you did it how it should be done.” I asked her for her name, thanked her, and invited her to be in my next parade. She beamed.
|From Olathe Old Settler's Parade|
I’d say that 95 percent of the time, working at getting elected is serious and often tedious work. The parade was different. It was special. Little kids running up to you and giving you high-fives I think would never get old.
|From Olathe Old Settler's Parade|
There were three “favorite” things that worked well, I think.
1) The big walking banana carrying the “No Sales Tax on Food” sign.
2) The people carrying brooms next to a sign that read, “Clean Up Topeka!”
3) That there was someone next to me carrying a big sign that read, “THIS is Sean Tevis!”.
The best part was improvised, however. I didn’t plan on what I should do in the parade because I was so busy worrying about getting signs made, cleaning the house, and having breakfast for volunteers. When we turned the first corner and I saw a group of people, I walked right up to them and said, “My name is Sean Tevis. (and sort of yelled) Hellooo!” and they yelled back “Hellooo!” to me. It was great! I kept doing it all through the parade.
|From Olathe Old Settler's Parade|
Thank you to the 22 wonderful people who got up early and marched with me. I’d list their names here, but most of them are Republicans. I want to check with them first because I’m pretty sure they’d be put on the “Do Not Fly” list if the wrong people found out.
I want to give a huge thank you to all of the great people I saw at the parade who yelled “Hellooo!” back to me. You all made this an event that I’ll be able to tell my kids about years from now. Except when I tell it then, it will be 120 people marching with me and the crowds lifted me up on their shoulders and gave me doughnuts. But you know, I still wouldn’t enjoy that more than what I did on Saturday. Thank you!
Join Sean Tevis in a Parade
I would like you to to march in a parade with me this Saturday, September 6th.
The Olathe Old Settler’s Parade is my best chance at reaching nearly everyone in my community who can vote for me. People respond positively when they see a show of force - that there are lots of others who are supporting this candidate that they may have never heard about. The more people who march with me, the better my chances at winning become.
We’re doing this up old school like a 1930s style political campaign - there will be lots of “picket signs”, banners, a megaphone, stickers, and about a dozen brooms. Really. We need a bunch of people to make this work, but we especially need you.
Here are the details:
WHEN: Saturday morning, 8:30 am
WHERE: Sean’s house - 500 E. Cedar St., Olathe, Kansas, 66061
8:30 - Assemble at Sean’s, eat donuts, drink coffee, be merry
9:00 - Walk to parade staging area at Elm and Kansas Ave.
9:15 - Assemble at Staging Area, the West side of Elm St. on Kansas Ave.
9:30 - Walk in Parade, have a fantastic, memorable time.
Food: There will be donuts, coffee, juice, and assorted breakfast-y items available for anyone who eats or drinks in the morning.
What to wear: Jeans, T-Shirt, and comfortable shoes. There are free T-Shirts for volunteers to wear!
Please come. It means a lot to me. Thank you!
P.S. Please forward this to anyone you may know. Thank you so much (again)!
Well, That Was Interesting
To my neighbors, family, friends, and friends-of-friends I say thank you for your generous donations and support over the last month.
It’s been an exciting and very busy time. On July 16th, I applied some of the techniques that I want to use to improve the way government works to the problem of fundraising for my campaign. I made an appeal that was both personal and that leveraged the power of social networks to quickly communicate with others. The effects were astounding.
By using the ability to collaborate online, connect with an audience, and communicate in a way that, say, mailing a brochure simply can’t, we were able to break the record for the most number of donors to a State Representative campaign in Kansas. Almost all of these donations were less than $10. Almost 50 donations were $1 each from people who know that we need real change, but they’ve been hit too hard by the economy to afford more.
We raised more money from more local donors than my three-term incumbent opponent. It means, too, that I have no strings attached to my funding because it’s not money from lobbyists or special interest groups. Hundreds of friends emailed me when they sent in a small donation. Mike said, “I have not had a job in sixteen months. Eight bucks and change will still move my old Ford Explorer about 40 miles if I drive real carefully. And I’ll be glad to avoid some driving so that your voice is heard in Topeka - LOUDLY, please!”
I’ve made a lot of friends online over the years, but I never realized how wonderful they truly were until now. Imagine knowing that as a Representative you should vote one way, but doing so would alienate the lobbyists who fund your campaign. I could never vote against the interests of my neighbors in Olathe. Fortunately, I have the luxury of voting to do what’s right instead of voting in a manner that secures more lobbyist money like some politicians.
As of today, I’m back to campaigning: walking door to door, meeting people and listening to them, and trying to figure out how to solve problems in new ways. And blogging it, of course.