New Wichita City Council member moves to undo ban on corporate political donations

The Wichita City Council will vote next week on an ordinance that would undo the ban on corporate political donations enacted earlier this month.

In his first meeting on the job, southwest Wichita’s District 4 council member Dalton Glasscock introduced a motion directing staff to draft an ordinance that would restore corporations’ and limited liability companies’ right to contribute to municipal candidates’ campaigns.

“I haven’t been quiet that I had some concerns with last meeting, in terms of how we handled the contributions by corporations and LLCs,” Glassock said. “Specifically, I believe the ordinance that was passed last meeting is less transparent of a process. I don’t think it was handled correctly.”

The Jan. 2 ordinance banning corporate donations passed 4-3 in former Mayor Brandon Whipple’s last meeting on the job. Whipple declared an emergency before the vote, allowing the council to finalize the reform immediately and forgo the standard second reading that would have otherwise been required at Tuesday’s meeting.

Glasscock’s motion to revisit the topic passed 4-3 with the support of Mayor Lily Wu and council members Becky Tuttle and J.V. Johnston. Newly appointed Vice Mayor Maggie Ballard and council members Brandon Johnson and Mike Hoheisel voted against the motion.

Hoheisel, who championed the initial ban on corporate political donations and worked with staff to draft the ordinance, said he expects a “robust discussion” next week before any action is taken to reverse course.

Wu, who raised about $115,000 from businesses last election cycle on her way to setting new fundraising records for mayoral candidates, told The Eagle she believes political spending is an important part of free speech that businesses should not be denied.

“Council members need to hear from all constituents. They include people. They include organizations, nonprofits. They include business individuals, job creators here,” Wu said.

Nonprofits are forbidden from directly or indirectly participating in political campaigns under the Internal Revenue Code.

The city previously barred political committees, corporations, partnerships, trusts, labor unions, business groups and other organizations from contributing to candidates. But those restrictions were dropped in 2015, five years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision, which prohibits the government from restricting independent spending for political campaigns by corporations and other groups.

At the state level, businesses are allowed to donate up to $500 to candidates, just like individual people. As a workaround to the contribution limit, donors will oftentimes give the maximum donation from multiple LLCs registered to the same address.

Glasscock owns his own consulting firm and is CEO of Starnes Media Group, which produces national broadcasts for former Fox News host Todd Starnes. He said it would be unfair for the seven elected officials on the City Council to be held to a different standard than other elected office holders in the state of Kansas.