- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Two lobbyists with past ties to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback received a preview of his proposals for balancing the state budget in an email from his budget director through a private account weeks before Brownback formally outlined the measures for legislators, The Wichita Eagle reported Tuesday.

The Eagle (https://bit.ly/1zsuejP ) obtained a copy of Budget Director Shawn Sullivan’s email, sent Dec. 23 through his Yahoo account. Among the recipients were lobbyists David Kensinger and Mark Dugan.

Kensinger is a longtime Brownback confidante who served as the Republican governor’s chief of staff from January 2011 until April 2012, when he left the administration and set up his own lobbying firm. Dugan was the manager of Brownback’s successful re-election campaign last year and became a lobbyist afterward.

The email outlined proposals from Brownback to increase the state’s cigarette tax, divert funds from highway projects to general government programs and change how public schools are funded. The email also went officials within Brownback’s administration and two higher education officials, mostly to non-government email accounts.

The state faces budget shortfalls totaling more than $710 million in the current budget and the one for the fiscal year beginning July 1, and Brownback formally presented his proposed fixes to lawmakers Jan. 16. The budget gaps arose after lawmakers aggressively cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging to stimulate the economy.

Sullivan said using a private email account was not designed to skirt the Kansas Open Records Act.

“Why it was done on personal email was because it was done while I was at home on Christmas,” Sullivan said.

The Eagle filed an open records request in October for emails and other correspondence between Kensinger and the governor’s office after Kensinger’s departure as chief of staff. The governor’s office told the newspaper earlier this month that fulfilling the request would cost $1,235.

Under the Open Records Act, emails sent to and from private email addresses on private computers are not public documents and don’t have to be disclosed.

“It’s definitely a loophole,” said Mike Merriam, a retired Washburn University’s School of Law professor who serves as general counsel for the Kansas Press Association. “So government officials are able to communicate with each other even on official business as long as they do it at home and that’s plainly not the intent of the law in my opinion.”

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said it’s inappropriate for lobbyists such as Kensinger and Dugan to receive information about the governor’s budget proposals before legislators.

But Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said, “We sought the counsel of a lot of people in that process.”


Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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