Election Social Media Bill Passes In Kansas

By John Celock

Kansas politicians will soon be able to tweet, Facebook and send out emails for their campaigns without fear of breaking the law.

The Kansas House of Representatives advanced legislation Wednesday that would allow for politicians to use social media for campaign purposes without a disclaimer, along with sending emails and social media invitations to fundraisers without worrying that it might be seen by a lobbyist during the legislative session. Lawmakers would also be able to handle political email from a personal device while the device is connected to a state owned network.

“This bill is past due and needed,” Rep. Randy Powell (R-Olathe) told his colleagues during the debate. “There are many of us breaking regulation and breaking the law at the current time and we’re doing so unknowingly.”

Carol Williams, the executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, recommended the bill to the House Elections Committee.

One of the issues Powell noted was the social media aspect where a candidate might want to tweet out a campaign related message. Under current law the tweet would need a disclaimer it was paid for by a campaign committee and the committee’s treasurer. The disclaimer would eat up parts of the 140 characters allowed on Twitter. Under the bill, campaign related posts under 200 characters would not require a disclaimer.

“It would also allow the exemption of putting paid for by such and such campaign and so and so treasurer, you’d be exempt from that in advertisements that are 200 characters or less,” Powell said. “You can tweet on Twitter and that’s a 140 characters. Based on rec of the Internet Coalition, which is made up by Facebook, Twitter and other orgs, they suggested raising to 200 based on advertising.”

Other provisions would allow a lawmaker to send out invitations to a fundraiser or note an upcoming fundraiser during the legislative session on social media or by email. Lobbyists cannot contribute to legislators during the annual legislative session. Among the issues Powell said exists is a Facebook or Twitter post of a fundraiser might be seen by a lobbyist who the invitation is not meant for.

“We lack control on social media to properly define our audience,” he said.

Powell also said the bill would cover an emailed invitation to a fundraiser where a lawmaker might include someone on the distribution list that they did not know was connected to a lobbying group and could not be invited.

The bill received support from other lawmakers, who did ask questions about the types of technology that would be covered under the law. Rep. John Carmichael (D-Wichita) told the House that while he can see another bill coming in a few years to handle any issues that might arise, the bill is needed now.

“We’ve got to do something about this problem,” Carmichael said.