By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — When it comes to wielding the power of campaign contributions, state law gives Kansas political candidates a fair amount of wiggle room.
Statute permits those vying for public office to use political funds for any “legitimate” campaign purpose or expense associated with holding their elected position. As you can imagine, that leaves a gray area about a mile wide, as detailed in the reports collected by the Kansas Ethics Commission.
By and large, most of these forms are dreadfully boring — think mass quantities of T-shirts, postcards, office supplies and pizza — but all it takes is a little digging to unearth a few nuggets.
1. Cowboy Boots
Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, recently caught a bit of heat for spending $173 on a new pair of cowboy boots from Atwoods in Bartlesville, Okla. Carol Williams, executive director of the Kansas Ethics Commission, said Peck will be asked for more information about the boots when his expenditures are put through a comprehensive review.
Peck defended the purchase, arguing that not only does the state have precedent for the purchase of clothing using campaign funds, but the boots are necessary for him to succeed as a candidate representing rural Kansas.
“I haven’t owned a pair of cowboy boots since my dad bought me a pair when I was in grade school, that was over 40 years ago,” Peck told Kansas Watchdog. “But since District 12, as laid out during the 2012 redistricting, is very, very rural, and it seems a lot of constituents wear boots, especially during fair time, I thought wearing boots in parades and to county fairs would help me fit in and make some voters feel more comfortable that I am one of them.”
Furthermore, Peck said he doesn’t really like wearing boots, and only plans to wear them while attending parades, fairs, Farm Bureau meetings and legislative forums in rural parts of his district.
What’s black, yellow and about two-feet long? Oh, just an RC Hummer that Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, purchased for about $123. Trimmer says the small toy is part of his campaign’s promotional efforts during parades. What’s more interesting, though, is this isn’t the first remote-controlled vehicle Trimmer has picked up with campaign cash. The first, he said, was stored in his basement while not being used for campaign activities and was ruined by some recent flooding.
“If you care to verify its use for campaign purposes, ask anyone who saw us at the Winfield Round-up or the Wellington Wheat Festival Parade,” Trimmer said.
Ask any politician or public relations wonk and they’ll tell you one of the major advantages of social media is you get some serious bang for your buck — or lack thereof, usually. The beauty of Facebook is that anyone can set up a page for practically nothing. But Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, took things to the next level by paying Tate Social $500 to set up his political Facebook page.
So what gives? Rhoades told Kansas Watchdog he needed to be able to accept donations through his official political presence on the global social media giant, and wasn’t able to set that up on his own.
These days a prospective politician would be a fool to try and compete without gaining some kind of electronic foothold. Whether it’s through the Internet or using data-driven techniques to guide a campaign, running for public office demands some kind of computing device.
But is a high-end iPad what it takes to get the job done? For Rep. Brett Hildabrand, that answer is apparently “yes.” Hildabrand, R-Shawnee, reported spending $881 on an Apple iPad for campaign purposes. He didn’t return calls for comment from Kansas Watchdog regarding how the tablet will be used once campaign season is over.
5. Candy, and lots of it
While Sunflower State political junkies have had their heads buried in election year news for months now, the average Kansan’s biggest exposure to campaign efforts of their local candidates usually comes during community parades. That means big smiles, countless handshakes and enough sugary treats to choke an elephant. In all, Kansas legislative candidates combined to spend more than $3,000 on just parade candy. After all, what better way to snag the vote of a fence-sitting parent than by way of sweet treats for the kids?
Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!