Posts tagged with Kansas Politics

Kobach campaign given maximum fine of $5,000 for mistakes in reporting campaign funds

The campaign of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach on Wednesday was hit with the maximum fine of $5,000 for errors in reporting nearly $80,000 in campaign funds during his successful election bid last year.

Kobach said the fine levied by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, showed a bias against conservative Republicans, such as himself, and ignored the recommended $750 fine from the “nonpolitical commission staff.”

The ethics complaint was filed against Kobach’s campaign treasurer, Tom Arpke, a Republican state House member from Salina.

Several Ethics Commission members said they were disappointed over statements by Kobach that the campaign self-reported the finance errors to officials.

The commissioners said it was the commission staff that brought the problems to light.

“The commission does not condone a lack of candor. This is in no way, shape or form self-reporting,” said Ethics Commission Chairwoman Sabrina Standifer.

But Kobach, who didn’t attend the hearing, disagreed, saying that although the commission staff initially looked into the finances, it was the campaign’s internal review that found more problems and finally resolved the reports. “We decided to come forward and self-report those errors,” he said.

The complaint alleged that the campaign made mistakes in reporting contributions totaling $35,011.52 and expenditures of $42,947.73.

“It’s clear the commission initiated this, and to not admit this is an aggravating factor,” in setting the fine, said Commissioner Glenn Kerbs.

Commissioner Mark Simpson, an assistant district attorney in Douglas County, said that the errors were a serious violation and that such failures undermine the integrity of elections. And, he said, that the campaign had shown “a complete lack of responsibility.”

Kobach defeated incumbent Chris Biggs, a Democrat, in the November election.

Arpke said the initial failure to keep accurate records was the result of a chaotic campaign that relied on volunteers.

He even noted that one event ended with a bomb threat with people trying to leave quickly while also writing contribution checks.

“We worked very hard on getting this corrected to the penny. It was a grueling process,” he said.

Despite the criticism from the commission, Arpke said he thought he was honest with the commissioners.

The commission voted 7-2 for the fine. An earlier motion by Commissioner John Solbach for a $4,500 fine failed. Solbach said that he understood the commission’s frustration with the Kobach campaign, but that he was willing to go below the maximum fine because Arpke had helped in tracking down receipts. But his motion failed 4-5.

Earlier, Arpke and the commission’s general counsel Camille Nohe had worked out an agreement for a $750 fine. But under questioning from the commissioners, Arpke refused to concede during the hearing that it was the commission staff that uncovered the discrepancies in the campaign reports.

At one point, he said he didn’t remember how the errors first surfaced. “It has been a long time ago,” he said.

Kobach noted a similar complaint in 1999 against the campaign of Bill Graves, a Republican who was elected governor, resulted in a $1,000 fine and involved an even larger amount of discrepancies.

By Scott Rothschild

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Federal grant to help children in foster care in Kansas succeed in school

The state has received a $250,000 federal grant that is aimed at improving the lives of children in foster care, officials said.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will fund a 17-month collaborative initiative among the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, Kansas University and State Department of Education.

The grant funds will be used to improve sharing of information among the agencies involved in the lives of foster children, specifically SRS and the schools the children attend, officials said.

The goals are to reduce the number of times foster children have to change schools and improve the children’s graduation rates.

“We are going to do everything we can to make communication among agencies more efficient to ultimately benefit children who are in state care,” said SRS Secretary Rob Siedlecki Jr.

KU’s Institute for Educational Research and Public Service and School of Social Welfare will help the Children and Family Services Division of SRS and the state education agency develop the infrastructure necessary to increase interagency communication.

By Scott Rothschild

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Brownback’s rejection of health insurance grant continues to spur questions

Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to reject a $31.5 million federal grant to start a health insurance exchange stirred up controversy and confusion on Monday.

Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger told legislators that the state is in danger of not meeting a crucial deadline in implementation of the exchange.

Under the federal Affordable Care Act, the exchanges are meant to provide online marketplaces where consumers can shop for health insurance and receive subsidies, if eligible.

But Praeger conceded that development of the exchanges and the entire federal health reform law could be altered by legal decisions or the outcome of next year’s presidential and U.S. Senate elections.

“At this point, we just have to look at what is on the books today,” she told the Special Committee on Financial Institutions and Insurance.

“Tomorrow this could all change,” said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, who is a vocal critic of the health reform law.

Praeger said even though that’s true, “It’s still important to stay at the table and deal with the uncertainties, otherwise it will be done to us.”

The issue of establishing a state-based exchange in Kansas was dealt a blow in August when Brownback rejected a $31.5 million “early innovator” grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Brownback, who had earlier supported the grant, rejected it, saying there were too many strings attached to the federal funding. He said his administration would not move forward on implementing the ACA until the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on whether the law, signed by President Barack Obama, was constitutional.

Praeger said it is possible the court could rule on the case as early as June.

The exchanges are supposed to be in effect by 2014, and Praeger said the state was in danger of not being able to meet that deadline unless the Legislature next year agreed to move forward.

She said the federal government will implement an exchange in Kansas if the state doesn’t. Kansas would lose some flexibility if the feds put in the exchange, she said.

By Scott Rothschild

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Bioscience panel recommends funding for two centers

The Kansas Bioscience Authority’s investment committee recommended funding for two of the KBA’s Kansas Bioscience Centers of Innovation on Monday.

Four centers of innovation in the state focus on research and development in core technology areas, and operate as a consortium of industry, higher education and other private research organizations.

Two of the four — Heartland Plant Innovations in Manhattan and the Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research in Wichita — received funding recommendations on Monday. The recommendations of the committee still must be approved by the KBA’s full board.

The committee recommended that HPI receive $2.5 million, half of which would be in the form of a grant and the other half in the form of a five-year loan. The committee recommended the action in exchange for a royalty that would allow the KBA to share in HPI’s revenue generation. Also, the committee added a stipulation that no distribution of dividends to shareholders occur until HPI has repaid the loan to the KBA.

Also, the committee recommended an update to a previous recommendation of $3 million in funding for CIBOR during the 2012 fiscal year. Of the $3 million, $1 million is mandated by the Legislature. The remaining $2 million will be distributed based on performance. The committee did not specify the specific milestones the center needed to achieve, citing the competitive business nature of CIBOR’s work.

By Andy Hyland

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Bioscience panel recommends funding for two centers

The Kansas Bioscience Authority’s investment committee recommended funding for two of the KBA’s Kansas Bioscience Centers of Innovation on Monday.

Four centers of innovation in the state focus on research and development in core technology areas, and operate as a consortium of industry, higher education and other private research organizations.

Two of the four — Heartland Plant Innovations in Manhattan and the Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research in Wichita — received funding recommendations on Monday. The recommendations of the committee still must be approved by the KBA’s full board.

The committee recommended that HPI receive $2.5 million, half of which would be in the form of a grant and the other half in the form of a five-year loan. The committee recommended the action in exchange for a royalty that would allow the KBA to share in HPI’s revenue generation. Also, the committee added a stipulation that no distribution of dividends to shareholders occur until HPI has repaid the loan to the KBA.

Also, the committee recommended an update to a previous recommendation of $3 million in funding for CIBOR during the 2012 fiscal year. Of the $3 million, $1 million is mandated by the Legislature. The remaining $2 million will be distributed based on performance. The committee did not specify the specific milestones the center needed to achieve, citing the competitive business nature of CIBOR’s work.

By Andy Hyland

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Regents approve salary increases for university chiefs; hefty ones for some

Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little on Thursday got a 1.8 percent salary increase, while her counterpart at Kansas State got a 14.3 percent hike.

Why? Because Kansas State President Kirk Schulz was one of three chief executives of regents universities to receive a hefty “market adjustment” from the Kansas Board of Regents.

“We all believe we have great university leaders at our regents institutions,” said Regent Fred Logan Jr. of Leawood as he laid out the plan.

All of the school leaders received the 1.8 percent cost of living increase.

But the regents also provided “market adjustments,” ranging from 12.2 percent to 14.7 percent, for the heads of Kansas State, Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State. Under the pay plan, K-State’s Schulz will see a $50,500 annual increase, while Gray-Little’s dollar increase was $7,650. Gray-Little’s salary cap, however, is still more than Schulz’s.

In addition, Steve Scott, president of Pittsburg State University, will receive a 14.7 percent market increase and Ed Hammond, president of Fort Hays State, 12.2 percent.

Prior to the action, the board had not granted salary increases to the heads of regents schools since 2009 as the state has struggled with the recession.

The increases will take effect Jan. 1 and will be paid through a combination of public and private, endowment funds. But how much will be state dollars and how much private, hasn’t been worked out yet, Regent Chairman Ed McKechnie of Arcadia said. Essentially, what the regents did was increase the salary cap for the chief executive officers.

The method of payment was criticized by Regent Tim Emert of Independence who was the lone opponent of the plan, which was approved 8-1.

Emert said the raises should be paid with state dollars, and not placed on the backs of students, through tuition and foundation funds.

“The state Legislature and governor, for some reason, refuse to step up to the plate and reward excellence,” Emert said.

Emert also said he was concerned about the employees who are not getting raises. “All the people keeping the engines running are not receiving increases,” he said.

But Christine Downey-Schmidt of Inman voted for the increase, saying that it was one way to provide raises. “It seems we have asked more and more and more from these presidents and the chancellor. We are asking more, we ought to be able to deliver,” she said.

Gray-Little’s increase will put her salary cap, which includes state and endowment funding, at $432,650, an increase of $7,650 from her current cap of $425,000.

Regents members said the fact that Gray-Little did not get a market adjustment was not a reflection on what they thought of her job performance. They said the 1.8 percent increase represented a cost of living increase and should be interpreted as being a vote of confidence.

Logan said the market adjustments were needed because those presidents who received them were being paid much less than their peers.

He said the 1.8 percent increase “was not pro forma. It is a vote of confidence.”

The regents are currently searching for a new president at Emporia State, and Wichita State President Don Beggs, who is leaving next year, received a 1.8 percent cost of living increase.

The board also is considering establishing a merit system pool to provide up to 3 percent increases for the chief executives in the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2012.

Regents members met several times in closed session to discuss CEO salaries.

The current and increased salaries, which include state and private funds, under the regents vote are as follows:

• Beggs, WSU, $277,160 to $282,150 (No market adjustment; 1.8 percent cost of living increase).

• Gray-Little, KU, $425,000 to $432,650 (No market adjustment; 1.8 percent cost of living increase).

• Schulz, KSU, $350,000 to $400,050 (12.5 percent market adjustment and 1.8 percent cost of living increase).

• Hammond, FHSU, $222,860 to $255,200 (12.2 percent market adjustment and 1.8 percent cost of living increase).

• Scott, PSU, $213,200 to $248,378 (14.7 percent market adjustment and 1.8 percent cost of living increase).

• ESU to be determined.

By Scott Rothschild

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American Legion commander urges Congress to support vets

The American Legion’s national commander in Lawrence on Thursday said he urged Congress to refrain from further budget cuts that would affect veterans benefits and defense spending.

“Our problem is how to convince people to be on our side to support what we need so that we don’t get hurt,” Commander Fang Wong told about 40 members of Dorsey-Liberty No. 14, 3408 W. Sixth St., and the post’s auxiliary.

Wong spent recent days speaking at 20 area posts. An Army Vietnam veteran who lives in East Brunswick, N.J., Wong was elected to a one-year term as national commander Sept. 1. He spoke extensively about lobbying Congress on helping veterans find jobs, defense spending, and medical and retirement benefits for veterans.

Wong, who has testified before a congressional committee, said he and his staff were hopeful a bipartisan “super committee” seeking to reach consensus before Nov. 23 to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over 10 years would not make cuts to veterans benefits and defense spending.

“At this point it’s our belief that we’re already at the bone level,” Wong said. “We really can’t afford to be further cut in any area.”

He said Congress faced a difficult fiscal situation, but Wong, who retired from the Army as a chief warrant officer in 1989, said further Department of Defense spending cuts could dramatically hamper the country’s ability to respond to any future military crises.

“Every time in our history when we do that, we get in trouble,” he said, “because that means our readiness will go down, and our equipment. Everything is just not there.”

Wong also said the legion would not support changes to military retirement system in favor of a 401(k) style system because he said military positions, particularly combat positions, are radically different from private sector jobs.

“You’re 24-7 on duty. You’re constantly deployed, separated from your family,” he said. “You’re constantly going overseas to God-knows-where. People shoot at you. Service to the country is an honor. If people are willing to stay and put their lives on the line on our behalf, we need to take care of them.”

Wong, who was originally born in China and immigrated to the United States as a 12-year-old boy in 1960, also worried that as more veterans return home from Afghanistan and Iraq, Veterans Affairs services will be more in demand to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues.

“If we spent the money now and do the right thing and get them jobs, then they will be taxpayers. They will pay revenue into the government to help this government,” he said, “instead of being on the other side of the ledger.”

By George DIepenbrock

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Study: Voter ID changes make it harder for 5 million people to vote

After decades of laws being approved aimed at making it easier to vote, a number of restrictions to enter the voting booth will be in place for the 2012 election, and Kansas is at the forefront of that trend.

A new study found the changes will make it harder for more than 5 million eligible voters to vote.

The study, done by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, states that new laws requiring voters to show photo ID, prove citizenship by producing birth certificates and other measures have been passed in several states.

“This is the most significant cutback in voting rights in decades. More voters may be affected than the margin of victory in two out of the past three presidential elections,” said Michael Waldman, the Brennan Center’s executive director.

“In 2012 we should make it easier for every eligible citizen to vote. Instead, we have made it far harder for too many. Partisans should not try to tilt the electoral playing field in this way,” he said.

Changes are in store for Kansas voters.

During the last legislative session, Kansas legislators approved a bill suggested by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback, both Republicans, that will require Kansas voters to show a photo ID to vote. The new requirement will be in effect for the 2012 election.

The bill also has a requirement, taking effect in 2013, that anyone registering to vote for the first time in Kansas will have to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship, such as a birth certificate. But Kobach has said he will return to the Legislature in January and seek to move up that requirement to 2012.

Kobach, one of the national leaders on pushing for voter ID and proof of citizenship, said the Brennan Center study is flawed. “It’s not a valid number,” Kobach said of the center’s conclusion on how many voters could be affected. “It’s a completely bogus extrapolation.”

Kobach was referring to the assertion by the Brennan Center that 11 percent of U.S. citizens do not have a state-issued photo ID. That included 18 percent of people age 65 and older, and 25 percent of African-American voting-age citizens, according to the study.

Those figures are based on a national telephone survey conducted in 2006 by Opinion Research Corp., a nationally recognized polling firm.

Larry Norden, one of the study’s authors and deputy director of the Brennan Center, said those figures are still valid today and have been backed up by more recent surveys.

“Every study that I’m aware of has come up with the same findings,” Norden said.

Conservatives often cite a 2008 study by the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University as proof that problems have been exaggerated.

In a survey of three states — Indiana, Maryland and Mississippi — about 1 percent of registered voters lacked a photo ID, that study found.

That study noted that the debate over ID of voters often is partisan. Republicans cite the threat of voter fraud to pass ID; Democrats say the photo ID requirement will mean some voters won’t be able to exercise their right to vote.

“The problem with both partisan sides of the debate is that there is little evidence that would allow each side to prove its case,” the study said. “The supporters of ID can point to few examples of multiple or false voting, and the opponents cannot identify voters who did not vote because they did not have a voter ID.”

By Scott Rothschild

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Immigration experts meeting at KU criticize Kobach’s laws

Immigration experts on Thursday criticized laws in Alabama and Arizona that were co-authored by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. But Kobach said the controversial anti-illegal immigration measures were working.

“People are self-deporting,” Kobach said. “People are picking up and leaving.”

But Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council, said the Arizona and Alabama laws were resulting in police racial profiling.

Alberto Cardenas Jr., an immigration attorney from Houston, said having individual states adopt immigration laws was counterproductive to forming a rational federal law.

“The solution has to come at the federal level,” Cardenas said. He added, “We have to look at this issue as a human one.”

Jeanette Hernandez Prenger of Kansas City, Mo., and vice chair of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said some of the consequences of the new Alabama law would be higher food prices because farmers in Alabama were having trouble finding people to harvest crops.

Their comments came during the Immigration and the Kansas Economy conference sponsored by the Kansas University Institute for Policy and Social Research and held at the Union.

Kobach, a Republican elected secretary of state last year, has been a national leader in writing tough anti-illegal immigration laws in various states and cities.

He helped write the controversial SB 1070 in Arizona and, more recently, the law cracking down on illegal immigration in Alabama.

Hispanic advocates and some business groups have said the Alabama law is causing panic and many undocumented workers are fleeing the state. The American Subcontractors Association said even legal workers are leaving because they may have a family member in the country illegally.

Last month, a federal judge upheld parts of the law that authorizes police to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally. Other provisions require public schools to determine the legal residency of children.

Kobach said the law is working as planned. “You are encouraging people to comply with the law,” he said. He said he has heard that U.S. citizens are lining up for jobs at an Alabama meat-packing plant where illegal workers are leaving.

Kobach argued that illegal immigrants are a drain on the national economy because of the welfare and education services they use.

But Cardenas and Johnson said the United States needs immigrants and if all undocumented workers left, the economy would fall into a tailspin. Cardenas noted that when a meat-packing plant in southwest Kansas was destroyed by fire several years ago, it was local leaders — not immigrants — who pleaded with the company to rebuild.

Earlier in the conference, James Hawkins, chief of the Garden City Police Department, said if Kansas adopted a law, similar to the ones in Alabama and Arizona that require police to check on immigration status, it would hurt his officers’ ability to enforce the law.

“It would really confound local law enforcement,” he said.

Garden City is home to several large immigrant groups and Hawkins said police work hard to communicate with them and gain their trust in order to investigate crimes.

Kobach disagreed with Hawkins and said it was possible that an Arizona- or Alabama-type law would be considered next year by the Kansas Legislature.

By Scott Rothschild

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Brownback administration outlines school finance concepts

Education officials on Wednesday expressed concerns that Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to overhaul the school finance system may put more of the financing burden on local districts.

During a meeting held by the Kansas Association of School Boards and United School Administrators of Kansas, Brownback’s policy director, Landon Fulmer, said the administration was looking at a plan to provide a base payment from the state to local school districts, a system of block grants for at-risk students and other needs of individual districts, and allowing local districts to increase taxes. There also may be some changes to the distribution of statewide property tax collected for schools, he said.

Mark Tallman, with the KASB, said, “One of our concerns is the impact this would have on equalization, and there is a concern of shifting funding responsibility back to the local level.”

But Tallman added that some of the concepts that Fulmer addressed were interesting and he noted that Fulmer said the proposals were not set in stone. Brownback is expected to make a recommendation for legislators to consider when the 2012 session starts in January.

Tallman added, “We need to have a clear understanding of what we are trying to correct. Why is this better?”

Schools have been hit with several rounds of state budget cuts since the recession. Earlier this year, Brownback signed a budget that cuts base state aid to schools by $232 per student.

Brownback has said he wants to reform the school finance formula because it has been tied up in litigation in recent years. But those legal challenges have sought to force the Legislature to increase funds for schools and distribute those funds more equitably.

By Scott Rothschild

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