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Feb
11

My Response to House Bill No. 2244 aka the “Sean Tevis Bill”

There are ( 24 ) Comments below.
Campaign Finance Bill is Flawed
It’s how much you give, not how much a candidate raises that is important. Bill would create unequal rights for citizens.

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.

2) Privacy
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 Problem

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.

For example:
• 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?

My Challenge

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.

Comments

Sarah Burris  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  12:36 AM says:

How much would this cost the state to process, upload these reports online, etc… etc… etc…?  Shouldn’t Scott Schwab as a republican be working to cost the state LESS money?

Tyler  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  06:32 AM says:

This may be the wrong forum to ask, but what does Rep. Schwab SAY is the reason for the $1000 limit or the requirement that micro-donations be reported? He would never say “it’s personal” (even if that’s the real reason); there must be some persuasive “logical-sounding” statements he’s making.

And if it passes, it would be fun to see 100000 people donate 1 cent each to Schwab’s campaign?

Christopher Vigliotti  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  07:04 AM says:

Well this is good news in one regard…apparently the legislature has resolved every other issue facing the people of Kansas…otherwise why would they be wasting their time with this ridiculous nonsense.

Tina Sutherland  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  07:38 AM says:

Just reading this silliness makes me pretty sure that Mr. Schwab isn’t doing a very good job for his constituency. It makes me glad I sent money to Sean Tavis and I wish he’d won.

diddy  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  08:39 AM says:

Obviously what some people should do, say about 21 people, is to send a smnall donation, say $48, to Rep. Schwab during his next campaign.  Maybe they could all give these donations at the same time, on the same day, say, the day this law takes effect.

Shannon S  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  08:55 AM says:

I’m contacting my House Rep to ask her to oppose this bill should it come to the floor.  Thanks for the analysis - I’ll probably borrow liberally from it.

Josh M  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  09:01 AM says:

Heads up, this law will make for a great political dirty trick.

1. Find a politician who isn’t recording their sub-$50 donations because they don’t expect to break the magical $1000 barrier.

2. Gather 25-30 people to donate $45 each to the campaign.

3. Force the candidate into a violation of campaign finance law. Enjoy!

Kathy C  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  09:08 AM says:

Excellent analysis of the bill.  I suspect that they picked the $1,000 limit because the GOP’s money comes from big PACs and not individual citizens.

Vaughan Phillips  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  09:15 AM says:

How can this bill have jurisdiction over internet donators who don’t live in Kansas or the US? Surely, legislation of this kind would have to be at the very least Federal.

Good luck with your campaign.

Vaughan Phillips.
London, England

Shannon S  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  09:38 AM says:

Vaughan,
First of all, candidates don’t (or shouldn’t) take money from outside the US. But leaving that aside (and answering your question about donors outside of KS), this isn’t a law that donors must abide by, it’s a law that *candidates* abide by. Anyone running in the state of Kansas will have to play by these rules, regardless of who gave them money.
So no, it doesn’t need to be Federal. It just only affects candidates running a campaign within the jurisdiction of the KS legislature.

Marvin  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  10:53 AM says:

They’ll do anything to keep the public out of politics, won’t they? Keep up the good fight Sean.

Darrel  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  12:00 PM says:

Ha! Yes, we all know that people that donate less than $50 individually have GREAT SWAY over our elected officials.

Sigh. Keep up the good fight, Sean!

KRA Blog  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  12:02 PM says:

Hi Sean - I don’t understand why you oppose this bill. I mean, you told potential constituents last year that you would be happy to disclose your donors. So you gave it to the KC Star. When asked by someone living in your district to see your complete list of donors, who wanted to review it for themselves rather than take someone else’s word for it, you told them you’d send it to them…but then never did. Why are you worried about this legislation when you clearly don’t want to disclose your own donors? During the campaign you said you wanted more open government and better reporting laws. Now it sounds like you like the current system just fine.

Perhaps you forgot your previous comments:

“I revealed my full list of donors - even those people who donated less than a dollar - to the first person who asked to see it - a reporter from The Kansas City Star. It’s not a secret. It’s just huge. Your assertion that there was a refusal involved is puzzling.”

And yet it is a secret Sean because you’ve never disclosed the list to citizens who asked to see it.

http://www.kansasra.org/blog/archives/204
http://www.kansasra.org/blog/archives/213

Sarah Burris  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  12:25 PM says:

if this bill were uniform for every member it would be ok - but its not - it singles people out so people like Scott Schawb probably wouldn’t have to ever report anything, but people like Sean would?  That’s not open its selective transparency.  If Scott Schwab wants to really be transparent he should work for bills that create it across the board to everyone, not just a select few

Momo the Monster  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  12:28 PM says:

@KRA Blog - Mr. Tevis writes that he supports this law, as long as the arbitrary $1,000 limit is removed.

So he does not ‘oppose the bill’, but rather seeks to make a bill purporting to be about Transparency true to its appearance.

Sean Tevis  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  12:32 PM says:

@KRA Hi! It’s a pleasure to hear from you again. I’ve missed you.

I see your confusion.

The issue isn’t disclosure. It’s the weird exceptions to reporting levels. Everyone must play by the same rules.

There’s a balance to be struck between Open Government and the expectation of what happens to your personal information.

You probably know that we are required to keep records of all of these donations. However, there is no requirement to publish them on the public campaign finance report. Some of my small donors know this.

I think the reasonable expectation (where the balance occurs) is that the those records would not be public, but would need to be verified by another party.

The Kansas City Star, as a reputable major media company, seemed like a good choice since they would not be publishing or abusing the privacy of these individuals and yet could verify they were real people. The Government Ethics Commission also is a designated third party that could verify this. I was open to any reasonable suggestion. If you have one, I’d listen.

KRA Blog  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  12:57 PM says:

Well, I should disclose that I personally oppose the bill as well. It’s somewhat because of the $1,000 threshold, although if you look at various recent reports this will effect more candidates than just the Sean Tevis’ of the world.

But mostly I oppose it because the disclosure wouldn’t be public, it would only be reviewed by the Ethics Commission. That’s really why this isn’t an open government bill. How can it be open government if the gov’t is the only one who reviews the records? Why not let the public see them? If we’re going to do it, let’s go all the way! So we agree more than maybe we both realize.

The reason I keep giving you a bad time is because you keep changing your story. Don’t say you’ll disclose your donor list to anyone who asks unless you’re willing to do it. It’s just dishonest.

And don’t comment on PrimeBuzz that you sent a spreadsheet of your donors to the Ethics Commission and it was rejected because the font size was too small. This implies you tried to disclose all donors and now you say you don’t want to do that due to privacy.

Look, I’m okay with you keeping your donors secret. You have no legal obligation to disclose your small donors. But don’t go around commenting that you tried to do so when all indications are you had no such intentions.

That said, I agree, this is a bad bill.

http://primebuzz.kcstar.com/?q=node/15434#comment-41259

Snig  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  01:15 PM says:

I don’t believe a “contribution” is inherently cash.  So if everyone were to decide to send contributions of items worth less than $50 to Scott Schwab (recyclable bottles, comic books, houseplants, old National Geographics, vintage computer equipment, cans of spam, etc.) would he have to document it?  His campaign website would look like Craigslist.

Sean Tevis  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  01:38 PM says:

@KRA The font issue was real and at the time frustrating, but now it just seems silly - especially since it’s there due to OCR issues when they could be using straight text from the source. I put the letter from the Commission in my campaign scrapbook so I can look back on it and roll my eyes.

And I think “implies” is the real problem. Comments on a web page typically don’t always read the same way to two different people.

We should do lunch sometime. Really.

Jeff  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  01:53 PM says:

Harry S.Truman pretty much summed it up when he said,” My choices in life were either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth,there’s hardly any difference. AMEN Harry!

Ryland  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  02:29 PM says:

This seems entirely punitive and not at all good policy. What do they expect to learn from the documentation of all small donors, even if they got it? It’s just a big list of people who gave a little bit of money each. There’s no possibility of corruption or undue influence, “soft money” issues, or the like, not in the amounts we’re talking about. A law should fix a problem, always. This law is a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.

Russ Jones  on  Thu, Feb 12, 09  at  03:50 PM says:

While I do oppose the bill, there are other reasons why this is coming to light now - or at least will need to be dealt with. The ability to get access to unlimited CC through pre-paid debit/credit cards has made it extremely easy for individuals to circumvent limitations. I could easily contribute $49,000 to a candidate by making 1000 $49 donations via pre-paid debit/credit cards. Sure, it would take some effort, but it could be effective.

Shannon S  on  Fri, Feb 13, 09  at  10:40 AM says:

My letter to and response from Cindy Neighbor, my KS House Rep:
Dear Representative Neighbor,

First of all, congratulations on your recent reelection. These are challenging times, and I was pleased to see you win your race. My purpose in writing today is to express my opposition to and concern over House Bill 2244, recently introduced by Scott Schwab. This bill would require candidates raising more than $1000 to disclose all donations, including those under the current limit of $50.
I appreciate transparency in government, and I think campaign finance disclosures are important. However, this bill does not serve the purpose. In my mind, the primary purpose of campaign finance regulation is to disclose from whom a candidate is receiving money, and to whom the subsequently elected official might be beholden. I cannot imagine a candidate feeling beholden to campaign contributor donating less than $50, unless that particular donation formed some huge percentage of his total donations. (In which case, let’s be honest, he probably couldn’t finance a successful campaign anyway.) Furthermore, this bill creates an unpredictable outcome for donors who, for whatever reasons, value the privacy of their campaign donations. A donor would have no way of knowing whether her $25 donation would be disclosed publicly or not. I’m no legal expert, but this sounds like it could well be considered unequal protection under the law. This uncertainty could limit restrict the willingness of a citizen to get involved in a campaign, limiting their voice in government. This bill isn’t fair, and it doesn’t accomplish its purported purpose.

I strongly urge you, should this bill come to debate, to oppose it, and to persuade your colleagues to oppose it.

Respectfully,
S….

———
Dear Shannon,

Thank you for your email.  I appreciate your support and I agree with you on Scott Schwab’s bill. This is a game for backyard politics and not about good policy.  If I can every be of service to you on any issue, please do not hesitate to call or email me.

Sincerely,
Cindy Neighbor

Andrew Blobaum  on  Fri, Feb 13, 09  at  01:57 PM says:

@ Russ, That is a reasonable point.  The larger issue there is that you may only have anonymous contributions that total $25 in a State HoR race ($25 for the primary and $25 for the general).  Essentially, you must take a person’s information for any contribution via paypal at any amount (they are required to report it), via check at any amount (must be on the check), and it would be rare that a person via an anonymous credit/debit card would be able to donate directly w/o placing their information somewhere (unless they have a credit card reader).

Really, I’m just fine with an independent source reviewing the list on background.  Which I’m sure will shock the folks over at the KRA.


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Sean Tevis - State Representative