By John Celock
Kansas lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected legislation Tuesday that would have raised campaign contribution limits.
The state House of Representatives voted 22-101 to defeat a bill that would raise contributions limits to double or more in most state races. While supporters outlined the bill as a way to help challengers and help combat outside spending, opponents painted the bill as a way to make races more incumbent friendly.
“I think this helps people who want to run against us because they can raise more money,” House Elections Committee Chairman Keith Esau (R-Olathe), the bill’s sponsor said.
Under Esau’s bill donation limits for state House, local, district judge and district attorney races would go from $500 to $1,000, limits for state Senate and state Board of Education from $1,000 to $2,500, county offices with more than 75,000 people would be set at $2,500 and statewide offices from $2,000 to $4,000. The bill also raises limits for party committees from $15,000 to $30,000.
Rep. Randy Garber (R-Sabetha), who was presenting the bill on the floor, said that the state has not seen contribution limits since the 1970s and that the increases proposed by Esau were below the rate of inflation.
The legislation has unsuccessfully been presented in the past.
Rep. Tom Cox (R-Shawnee) said that the bill would help more people run for office, since he said it would allow for an easier way for combatting spending by outside groups. He pointed to his race last year against then Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee).
“I speak in favor of this bill. This is one of the issues that is dicey for future elections. The reality is that this is something we need to go forward. This helps make our elections more fair,” Cox said. “We have dark money in these races. I challenged an incumbent. In that race what I spent and what he spent combined was $10,000 less than what an outside group spent against me. We have seen good people hindered by outside spending.”
House Agenda Chairman Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) disagreed with Cox, saying that he did not believe the best way to compete with money was to bring in more money. Whipple noted that in other states with higher contribution limits, he has seen special interest groups become more powerful, since candidates need “a whole Rolodex of millionaires” in order to run.
“There was an argument made by my colleague from Johnson County that this will level the playing field against dark money,” Whipple said. “I don’t think the best way to combat dark money in politics is to raise money in politics.”
Rep. Vic Miller (D-Topeka), the top Democrat on the Elections Committee, offered an amendment to keep donation limits for state House races at $500, an amendment that was defeated 46-76.
Miller disagreed with supporters of the bill saying that he did not think it would help challengers.
“I love legislative bodies, they are the one true place where you can turn logic on its ear,” Miller said of the arguments made by supporters.