Bill targets politicians’ self-serving ‘public service’ ads

TOPEKA — Final House approval is expected in about an hour on a bill to prohibit candidates, especially incumbents, from appearing in government public-service messages during the lead-up to elections.

Critics of such ads say they’re a misuse of power, allowing office holders to get free face time with voters that challengers can’t.

The House gave the measure preliminary approval Thursday; the Senate has already approved similar legislation.

Both bills, proposed by State Treasurer Ron Estes, would restrict the running of public service announcements or advertisements 60 days prior to elections that feature the picture or name of a candidate.

The hope is that politicians will no longer exploit announcements not paid for by campaign funds, nor will agencies use government funds to promote candidates, according to Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, who chairs the House Committee on Election.

One difference between the bills is that the House approved an amendment that closes a window of about a month between primary elections and general elections. In the House’s version, House Bill 2128, PSAs featuring candidates would end 60 days prior to primary elections in August, and could not resume until after November general elections.

Senate Bill 126 would restrict the ads from appearing 60 days prior to the primary election, then allow them to resume until 60 days prior to the general election.

Schwab said the difference between the two bills will be dealt with in conference committee, which should occur in the next few weeks.

“These public service announcements are intended to educate the citizens of Kansas,” Estes said regarding the legislation he promoted in both houses. “They are not intended to serve as a free campaign commercial for an incumbent.”

In the most recent election, Estes’ opponent, Dennis McKinney, appeared in PSAs for 529 savings plans, which he defended as educational. Estes challenged the practice during the campaign, then teamed with legislators to produce the proposals now before both houses after winning the November election.

– Todd Fertig, Eagle Topeka Bureau