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Politics, Elections and Government

ACLU Running Ads For First Time In Kansas Governor's Race

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The ACLU, for the first time, is running TV spots in the race for Kansas governor.

Millions of dollars have been spent on the governor's race in Kansas. Money has poured in from all over the country.

But a new player has entered the fray — the American Civil Liberties Union.

An ACLU TV spot went up on cable and broadcast this week. Titled "The Rule of Law," it starts out like any other opposition ad.

"Kris Kobach took an oath to uphold the constitution and then as secretary of state, he was held in contempt of court for refusing to follow court orders," the narrator says, backed by somber music. It goes on to say Kobach wanted to defy the state supreme court's ruling to increase school funding, "threatening children with disabilities."

But suddenly the spot changes and says this: "Regardless of who you vote for on Nov. 6, we, the people, must demand that politicians respect the rule of law," as pictures of all five candidates are revealed. "The ACLU does not endorse or oppose candidates."

The ACLU would risk its tax-exempt status for endorsing or opposing a candidate. But another branch of the organization, known as a 501(c)(4) under the federal tax code, can participate in politics as long as that doesn't become the primary purpose of the organization. It's that 501(c)(4) group that paid for campaign ads.

While the ACLU says it "has not singled out any candidate for scrutiny," it walks right up to the line, says University of Kansas political science Professor Patrick Miller.

"At least they are open about who is paying for this and it's not a dark money ad," he told KCUR.

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The ad is "clearly about issues and facts," says Kansas ACLU Executive Director Micah Kubic. "What people do with those facts, they do."

Kubic wouldn't say how much the ACLU is spending on the spot. He would only say the organization is making a "significant expenditure."

The ACLU tested a similar approach in this summer's race for St. Louis County Prosecutor. The organization had repeatedly clashed with long-time prosecutor Bob McCulloch. The ACLU created a website and ran radio ads discussing McCulloch's record. It did not specifically oppose McCulloch or back his opponent Wesley Bell. In the end, Bell won with 57 percent of the vote.

After McCulloch was defeated, the ACLU seemed to crow just a bit in a news release.

"We wanted voters to know that this election will have a major impact on matters like curbing mass incarceration, holding police accountable, and reducing the inequalities based on race and income in our criminal justice system," the group said.

The ACLU entered the Kansas governor's race during the primary when it sent out mailers comparing Kobach to Gov. Jeff Colyer. While some believed the mailer was an attack on Kobach, the ACLU insists it was purely educational.

"The ACLU of Kansas criticized both of the leading Republican candidates in the primary, and has critiqued the positions of all of the gubernatorial candidates in the general election, as well," Kubic said in a statement to KCUR.

The ACLU is now running this type of campaign around the country. It has ads running in the hotly contested race for Georgia governor and in the race for Arizona secretary of state, according to ACLU spokesperson Thomas Dresslar. It is also weighing in with ads on ballot issues in seven states. That includes the one in Florida that would restore voting rights to people convicted of crimes.

This story has been changed to clarify that ACLU's ads were paid for by its 501(c)(4) organization.

Sam Zeff is KCUR's metro reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff

 

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