- Associated Press - Monday, February 16, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Campaign contribution limits to candidates for state office would at least double under a bill that has been endorsed by both the Kansas Republican and Democratic parties.

Leaders of both parties testified Monday to the House Elections Committee that they favor legislation raising individual contribution limits to $4,000 from $2,000 for gubernatorial candidates and to $2,500 from $1,000 for state senators while all others would double.

Joan Wagnon, chairwoman of the Kansas Democratic Party, testified that the current limits, which have changed little since the 1970s, were unrealistically low.

Kansas Republican Party Executive Director Clay Barker told the committee that the increases were needed so that campaigns could keep pace with the dramatic rise in ad spending by outside groups.

During the fall election cycle, ad spending from outside groups outpaced official campaign ad spending for the first time in Kansas history, and Barker said he was “troubled” by how uncoordinated outside ads, even in support of his candidates, could cloud the message.

“If the money is going to be spent, I’d just prefer it comes from the candidate who can say, ‘This is me. This is what I stand for,’ … whereas a special interest group generally has either one issue or a basket of closely-related issues,” Barker said.

Bob Beatty, a professor of political science at Washburn University in Topeka, said that both parties are “still reeling” from the massive influx of outside-funded ads in the last elections.

“Since last election, there’s been a feeling that control is gone when that amount of money is coming out of these outside groups,” he said.

Democratic Minority Leader and Rep. Tom Burroughs of Kansas City, who is a member of the committee, said that the outside ads have muddied the waters but that more money to campaigns won’t help.

“The unfortunate side is the amount of misinformation that these outside interests bring forward into the political process, and if candidates think they’re going to overcome that by increasing their contribution limits, they’re sadly mistaken,” Burroughs said.

A grand jury is currently investigating loans used by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s re-election campaign in 2013 and 2014.

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