For every election, we gather campaign finance reports of candidates in local races, which are an important public record. We typically share who raised the most money for a given race and who gave money to whom. We shared the reports for city commission candidates on Tuesday.
We were surprised to learn, though, that in another local race, the one for USD 383 school board, candidates don’t have to file campaign finance reports until after the race.
Riley County elections supervisor Susan Boller confirmed the state law, which provides an exception for unified school districts.
The candidates for those offices file campaign finance reports annually on or before Dec. 31, which of course is after Election Day in November. (If there were a primary, candidates would have to file a report 30 days after that election.)
So we see that this is the rule, but it’s a flawed one to say the least.
How can you not know who is spending money and how?
Campaign finance reports are an important component of democratic elections, and keeping them public ensures a level of transparency. But if voters can’t see them until after the race, who does that help?
The truth is that school board races are often pretty low-wattage. USD 383 has just passed a big, $129.5 million bond issue, but the school board isn’t likely to see a measure with that much money riding on it anytime soon.
But there will be some day when there’s a big, divisive issue. A candidate will be running big ads, and we’ll wonder who’s backing that person. The fact that we can’t know for school board members is a problem.