Kansas Representative introduces anti-netroots campaign finance reform bill

Remember Sean Tevis, the Kansas geek who financed his run for the state House of Reps by asking 3,000 net-people to send him $8.34 each -- and who won lost (from Rikchik in the comments, "Correction - Tevis didn't win, though he came close. The guy introducing the bill is the incumbent who beat him.") the election after raising a staggering sum of money in a short time? Well, his "colleagues" in the Kansas House of Reps aren't impressed.

Representative Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) has introduced a bill to require politicians to gather and disclose the personal information of small (less than $50) donors, if that politician raises more than $1,000. This is basically the Sean Tevis Campaign Finance Bill, and it will only affect politicians who raise their funds through distributed, grassroots campaigns. As Tevis points out. the main reason for campaign finance disclosure rules is to track money's influence in politics: "You give $1 to a candidate. It’s a pretty safe bet that they won’t feel indebted to you. If you give them $100, they might. You give a candidate $1,000 they will probably drop everything to take your call." Do Kansans have to worry that net-people who paypalled $8.34 to Tevis will lean on him for government pork?

The $1,000 threshold creates an unequal protection of privacy.

If you donate $1 to a candidate, you can expect that your personal information will remain private. If that candidate, however, crosses the arbitrary $1,000 threshold, which is beyond your control, then suddenly your reasonable expectation of privacy that other small donors enjoy is stripped from you.

For example:
• John gives $1 to Candidate A
• Mary gives $1 to Candidate B
• Candidate A *does not* raise more than $1,000 in small donations.
• Candidate B becomes very popular and she raises more than $1,000 in small donations.

The effect of this is that:
John’s personal information is safe.
Mary’s personal information is not safe.

My Response to House Bill No. 2244 aka the “Sean Tevis Bill” (via A Whole Lotta Nothing)


  1. I’m all for full disclosure. Openness in politics is good; secrecy stinks.

    The only real reason that there is a limit is technical: the hassle of collating and doing anything useful with those large numbers of smaller donors used to be greater than the transparency benefit. Now, not so much.

  2. Hold on, the reason we want to limit reporting to totals larger than $1k is because tracking it for smaller totals would be too much work?

    How does that work?

    1. I raise $500 from 50 $10 donations. If there was no limit on reporting, I’d have to file 50 records. Under the current proposal, I don’t have to file anything.

    2. I raise $5000 from 500 $10 donations. Under the current proposal, I have to file 500 records.

    Why is it more “hassle” to impose reporting on person 1 than person 2?

  3. Correction – Tevis didn’t win, though he came close. The guy introducing the bill is the incumbent who beat him.

  4. So “Campaign Finance Reform” means new rules to prevent small-$$ people banding together to influence policy…

  5. @1 Never heard of a thing called privacy?!

    If $1 political donors are tracked then the local priests should be forced to provide a personal information of all donations collected in the Church (that is influencing the elections everywhere it got a strong presence)…

  6. Obviously this move is undemocratic, but would everyone be so upset if the would-be candidate were not a pro-net-freedom campaigner but a neo-nazi? Grassroots campaigns can work for all flavours of the political spectrum.

    I’m not suggesting donors should be “outed”. But to prevent extremists hijacking the general apathy, there is an alternative procedure.

    I don’t know if the US electoral process is the same as here in the UK, but to deter “frivolous” campaigns, you have to lodge a deposit of a few hundred pounds ( I believe), which you lose if you don’t garner enough votes.

  7. While I can appreciate the anger that this bill generates and recognize it is specifically designed to prevent what Tevis, and President Obama, achieved, there are a couple of problems with the argument against it. As a journalist, I’m all for tougher campaign finance laws.

    First, the only personal information that would appear on the finance report are name and address. You surrender more to sign up for an account with an ISP or or get a library card.

    Second, the idea that a small contribution doesn’t make a candidate beholden to the contributor is flawed. If 500 members of a union are encouraged to give a candidate $40 apeice, the individual contributions may fall below the reporting threshold, but the candidate’s surely going to notice the $20,000 that rolls in right after his address to the Plumbers Local.

    I do agree that the $1,000 threshold is arbitrary. Small towns thrive on penny ante politics and no decision is too trivial be outside the scope of pay to play.

  8. For the record, Tevis is calling for the bill to stand, but with the $1k threshhold scrapped.

    My guess? He thinks he knows the net well enough to automate the recordkeeping without much sweat, while the dinosaur incumbents will have to go and buy a mountain of ledger-books to keep up.

  9. There is more to it; I think this is also inspired by the small-donor success of President Obama. His small-donor campaign is what propelled him over the top in the primaries.

    However, some of his opponents contend that the small-donor system could allow people to exceed the 2300 dollar donation limit because it is difficult to collate. The only way you could limit it for sure is by issuing some sort of identifier number to everyone, like an SSN. As it is, the way most campaigns handle this is by having all the donors in a spreadsheet or database and doing sort and adds. This becomes really hard to spot if you run into errors in name spelling, contributions from different addresses, or variations on occupations.

    Now add to that the difficulty of including offline donations like T-Shirt and button sales; how are you going to get that data and maintain data integrity? More importantly in all of this, how do you make sure the information you’re given is accurate? And where do you get the resources to do all this?

  10. hmmm last year when I “donated” a few bucks for an Obama yard sign they collected this very same data. And I was told they were required to. How is this any different?

  11. I want to vote in the town hall with everyone watching, secret schmecret I say! Privacy is for the birds. Everyone should wear mediatronic clothing that posts all of your donations, blood type and marital status and favorite recipes!

  12. Makes a good story. “Incumbent politician challenged by grass roots campaign that sought small donations from lots of citizens. Incumbent wins, crafts legislation to regulate the reporting of small (and non-influential) political donations.”

    I remember going into a local political office and seeing the equivalent of a tip-jar. Looks like that’ll become a tip registry instead.

    With the diminished value of small donations for large incumbents, I don’t think there will be any worry that the added regulation with discourage political donations?

  13. Oh. I read the website and I see the important point left out in the summary, above:

    Maybe it’s because in 2008, there was only been one candidate to raise more than $1,000 in small donations. Me.

    Wow. And that’s also very sad, at the same time, to know that no other politician in Kansas managed to raise over $1,000 with donations under the $50 mark.

    If I donate $ to Sean now, can it be an entertainment donation instead?

  14. This should absolutely be reported, and its really no hassle at all – the amount of information required to be reported is little; and

    its common for lobbyists to use something called a ‘bundler’ or an ‘intermediary’ to game the donation system. these laws – when used with mandatory intermediary reporting – provide for actual transparency.

    here’s a real life example from NYC politics:

    the Developer Lobby maxes out on contributions from member, families, and money given to employee families just to donate ( which is why so many people in rural america give the max contribution to first-run council members )

    What to do?

    Hire a bundler. They find a few target groups that motivate families — like “Aids Awareness” , “Breast Cancer”, “Safe schools” — then throw a event / fundraising drive. 10,000 people end up giving $200 a piece under the notin of ‘Breast Cancer Research’, but its funneled to the bundler — a lobbyist — who is quick to remind the candidate “So yeah – that 70k from the breast cancer dinner was raised courtesy the “Raze Affordable Housing” PAC that paid me to do it. You should have dinner with them and sell your votes.

    And then the candidates do that.

    What we’re talking about here is REPORTING someone’s name and address — basically what you get from paypal when you get your payment.

    This isn’t a hassle, nor is it undemocratic — its probably the single best thing to do.

  15. The US is now a surveillance state (everything changed after 9-11, by Diktaat): and any move to reduce the privacy of the participants, at this paltry level of contribution, is another step to the “they-see-you-but-you-do-not-see-them” practice of Government.
    Fish cannot thrive in clear water: they need weeds in which to shelter safely from the larger predators…

  16. It’s just window dressing anyway.

    With FISA the gov’t already KNOWS who gives what to who.

    Disclosure? All the gov’t needs to do is publish the figures. Gimme a break…

  17. There’s actually a good reason to report the small donations–it’s to keep guys from hiding a big donation by breaking it up into a bunch of small ones.

  18. Some people here are missing the privacy point – it’s not that they COLLECT the data, but that they are required to DISCLOSE it – that is, they are required to publish the data, which means your name and address will be out there in public so everyone knows who you probably voted for.

  19. @jonathan and others that think this should all just be reported

    “This should absolutely be reported, and its really no hassle at all – the amount of information required to be reported is little; and…”

    I am not sure about Kansas in most states, the employer of every donor is required for disclosure. People don’t like to list their employers on personal activities. So people leave it blank. Campaign folk then need to call them and confirm employer or missing part of address or whatever. At some point on a campaign the cost per donation gets so High that small donations like these would become a net loss for the campaign. Adding this level of bureaucracy would likely result in anyone raising money from the internet, losing money or spending all their time dealing with data rather then actually campaigning. It’s not an issue that excel and XML feeds eliminates

  20. @#13 – man, if my clothes emitted all my favourite recipes I’d jam everyone else’s signal! Hey, not a bad idea!

  21. #12 Didn’t the Obama campaign collect contact information for all kinds of reasons just so they could keep going back to the well for whatever they needed.

  22. @ LB

    “which means your name and address will be out there in public so everyone knows who you probably voted for.”

    And if your company is not getting no bid contracts from the state or city, you’ve got nothing to worry about.


    In Pennsylvania, employer information is required only for contributions more than $250. Simple solution if a check arrives without the requisite information: tear it up.

  23. hmmm last year when I “donated” a few bucks for an Obama yard sign they collected this very same data. And I was told they were required to. How is this any different?

    Obama plays CYA better.

  24. Two proposals for campaign finance reform that I have yet to hear:

    1) Donations can only be accepted from constituents. No out of state funds for senators, no out of town funds for dog catcher. Cuts down on the volume of cash raised and outsider influence. Oh, and IF companies are allowed to donate, they can only donate where their corporate headquarters are (bye bye offshore company getting to donate anything at all).

    2) Non-disclosure. Instead of disclosing all donations, don’t allow any disclosure. And I don’t mean to the public, I mean to anyone, especially the candidate. Hard to owe someone a favor if you have zero knowledge or evidence they contributed. All contributions through a blind trust. Anybody who outs themselves or someone else pays a penalty, and maybe multiple of funds are subtracted from trust. Sort of tricky to pull off, but could make politics kind of interesting again.

  25. Lets jump into our time machine and zip to 2012. The law has been passed. You’re a candidate, planning to raise $950 in small donations. No need to collect these info right?

    At the last minute, 2 guys from your opponent’s camp donated a total of $60, bringing you over the $1k limit. Oops. Now, what do you do? All those people who donated earlier, they’re gone already. How can you get their names and addresses? How can you return their money. You can’t even find them.

    This means you always have to collect everybody’s info. Even if you don’t expect to go over the $1k limit. Just in case. I think getting rid of the $1k limit is a good idea.
    I think removing the $1k limit is a good idea.

  26. #14, #18, #32: IIRC, campaigns are required to collect the information in order to track the aggregate amount contributed by an individual donor. If the donor contributes less than $200 in aggregate, then the campaign isn’t required to disclose the donor to the FEC; if the donor contributes more, the campaign is required to do so.

    Not that it’s adherence to that rule kept FOX et. al. from alleging, without evidence, that Obama had flouted disclosure laws merely by accepting multiple small donations from the same people.

    I agree that the motivation of the sponsor is transparently anti-democratic, but I don’t think the policy itself is necessarily bad. I can see the privacy argument, but I don’t think it’s wholly persuasive.

    To me, the real problem is the use of disclosure law to stymie novice candidates and aid experienced ones. I suspect that disclosure is a pain for a candidate unfamiliar with the law. I know that experienced candidates exploit weaknesses in disclosure law to conceal their unsavory associations until it is too late to punish them, either by disclosing them in an 11th hour filing before the election or by disclosing them after the election in an addendum.

    If we’re going to continue private funding of political campaigns, I’d like to at least end direct contributions to candidates. Instead, establish an independent third party (like the FEC) that is responsible for collecting contributions on behalf of individual candidates, recording and publishing the disclosure information, then distributing the contributions to the candidates themselves.

    That ensures that a contribution is disclosed before it is even available to the candidate, and takes the responsibility for disclosure off the candidate themselves.

  27. Yay for the other anon ~#33,

    Blind trusts would be great, because even when they did game the system (inevitable that) the candidate could ‘out’ them, so the only option left would be bald-faced bribes. Of course, this would reduce campaign funds enormously (usually) and so increase voter ignorance, but advertising doesn’t really help that much anyway.

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