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PACs, Other Organizations Can Now Donate To Local Elections

Tracy O, flickr Creative Commons

Wichita City Council members voted 4-3 on Tuesday morning to allow labor unions, corporations and political action committees to donate to future municipal campaigns.

In the past, city ordinance allowed candidates to accept donations only from individuals. A $500 donation limit will remain in place.

Prior to the vote, numerous members of the public spoke out against the change. Many felt that municipal elections will now turn partisan when money from organizations is allowed to flood local campaigns.

Lynn Stephan is the director of Women for Kansas, an organization that promotes "moderate policy." She told members of the council that it’s worrisome what "big money" has done to state and national politics.

“The city has been independent,” Stephan said. “You have the freedom from the influence that the state and the nation don’t enjoy.”

The change is an effort to align with state and federal law, and to avoid future legal action stemming from Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that preventing organizations from contributing to political campaigns is a violation of the First Amendment.

Council member Janet Miller disagreed with the ordinance change, saying it’s premature.

“If there is a group or a corporation that wants to see it changed, bring suit against the city, we can always change the ordinance at that time,” Miller said.

Mayor Jeff Longwell, who voted for the change, says individuals, not money, will still drive local politics.

“Every council member here understands their role and that they work for every single person,” Longwell said. "Not just campaign contributors, not just one party or another. They work for the entire city.”

The city council also voted to move city elections from spring to fall, which has been seen as a step towards partisanship. The change was mandated by the Kansas Legislature.

City council members and the mayor also voted on pay raises on Tuesday. The newly approved salaries are $40,000 for city council members and $90,000 for the mayor.


Follow Sean Sandefur on Twitter @SeanSandefur

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