Martin Hawver
Guest columnist
What’s the difference between the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission and most county sheriffs?
This is too easy. Sheriffs’ officers don’t fire warning shots much anymore. But, the Governmental Ethics Commission—that watchdog of most things to do with elections—does.
The latest warning shot from the Ethics pistol? If you are a sheriff running for reelection, or a deputy running for the top job, it’s OK to drive your assigned spotlight-bristling cherry-topped county car, often with a shotgun prominently locked to the dashboard, to the local grange or Chamber of Commerce for a campaign event—or to distribute campaign literature or even to stop at the local newspaper office to buy a campaign ad.
Just don’t have your campaign assistants take your picture leaning on that county-issued car. That would be a use of the taxpayer-owned vehicle to “expressly advocate” the reelection or election of the sheriff. And, it would draw the attention of potential voters to the sheriff or sheriff’s officer as a genuine law enforcement officer. A non-sheriff’s office employee would presumably be taken a little less seriously leaning on his/her Chevy.
It is use of government property for that “express advocacy” that is the hang-up here. Because chances are slim that the sheriff is going to let his/her election challenger borrow an official vehicle for a campaign photo shoot, the sheriff’s use of his official car may give the incumbent a boost.
Oh, driving the sheriff’s car to a political event? That’s OK because if an emergency call came in, the sheriff or deputy would presumably have to leave in a hurry and need the vehicle and its siren and lights and such to get to the scene of a crime or emergency.
OK, so now all of Kansas’ 105 sheriffs are on notice that Ethics is going to issue one of those politically icky unlawful campaign tactic letters if they expressly advocate.
But, we’re wondering about those other campaigns.
Like, the ones for the Legislature, where you’ll probably recall a campaign photo or two of a legislator standing on the steps of the Statehouse, or out in front so he/she looks like it’s his/her building.
Or, maybe those campaign photos of the candidate at the rostrum in the House during what is generally an off-session shot showing the candidate leading a debate? Or those shots of the legislator leaning on or sitting at his/her desk on the House or Senate floor, where challengers aren’t allowed to sit and look like they’re raking in $88.66 a day for their service.
Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this statewide political news service, visit the website at