Kansas: A model for government ethics?

If you think Kansas has its share of ethics controversies — or perhaps more than its share (Lawmakers chatting with state supreme court judges about pending school finance bills, using government address lists to distribute campaign fliers, etc), consider this: There’s a chance Kansas politicians just get caught more often because of its ethics system.

According to a new report by the United States Public Interest Research Group, Kansas is one of 12 states that is doing well. Kansas, and the other states PIRG rated well, has “outside oversight, meaningful conflict of interest rules, protection against arbitrary removal of commissioners, an open complaint process, full investigative authority and full disclosure of complaints filed and actions taken.”

Here’s their assessment: “The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission is a nine member body. The Governor appoints two members; the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and the majority and minority party leaders of the state legislature also appoint one each. There is a five year ‘cooling off’ period before party officials, candidates and lobbyists may serve on the commission. Commissioners are appointed to two year terms.

“The commission may initiate an investigation based on an outside complaint or a complaint filed by commission staff. Anyone may file a complaint, and all hearings of the commission are open to the public. In 2006, the commission reviewed approximately 35 complaints and issued 15 fines.”

That’s better than most states, and “far ahead of Congress in establishing independent ethics enforcement for legislators,” according to the report.

On another Kansas ethics note, Rep. Todd Tiahrt was appointed recently to the congressional ethics commission.