Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Kansas: Phill Kline's bait and switch politics hurt everyone, even the Religious Right

By Diane Silver

Attorney General Phill Kline may well be hurting the people he claims to most represent -- the members of the Religious Right. I say that because all of us -- whether fundamentalist or secular -- can fall prey to fraud and unethical business practices.

If the attorney general is in the pocket of corporate interests and lets his Consumer Protection Unit fall into disarray, then we all suffer, including members of the Religious Right. That appears to be exactly what Kline has done, and now corporations are dumping money into his campaign in a desperate move to keep Kline in office.

Kline's less-then-stellar campaign fundraising has been bolstered by more than $1.5 million in advertising financed by the Republican State Leadership Committee. Neither Kansas based nor primarily political, the committee is a Washington, D.C. group of corporations.

That $1.5 million -- a large amount by Kansas standards -- was spent in just nine days on advertising slamming Kline's Democratic opponent, Paul Morrison. The ads attacked Morrison for being soft on crime, an issue that is not a part of the committee's pro-growth agenda.

This news comes as Kline's Consumer Protection Unit reports that the amount of money it has collected from companies that fleece consumers has taken a huge drop. The Lawrence Journal-World reports:
For 2005, Kline's consumer protection division reported consumer savings of $921,533. In 2004, the total was nearly $375,000.

Those totals are less than the last two years of Kline's predecessor, former Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall Steckline.

In 2002, Steckline's office saved consumers nearly $2.9 million, and in 2001 the figure was nearly $9.3 million, according to state reports.
Kline appears to have undermined the Consumer Protection unit by hiring Bryan Brown to lead it. Brown is most well known for his multitude of arrests as an anti-abortion protestor -- not for his expertise as a fraud fighter.

Brown calls the drop in his division's numbers as a "mid-course correction" that is fighting against what he told the Topeka Capital-Journal is the "nanny state." In other words, the head of the division that is supposed to protect Kansas consumers seems most concerned with protecting corporations.

The attitude of Brown and Kline may best be shown in a report Brown recently released to the news media. The report notes:
"As such the 'slow down' in the transfer of wealth from law-abiding businesses to complaining consumers constitutes statistical proof that the reforms of 2003 have remedied state action often accused of overreaching due to a seeming anti-business bias."

This is the clearest example I've seen of the bait and switch tactics Thomas Frank described in his bestseller, What's The Matter With Kansas.

Many of the people campaigning for Kline think they're fighting against abortion. In reality, they are fighting to make it harder for themselves, their families and their neighbors to be protected against unfair business practices.

That seems to be a distinction that the corporate community understands to the tune of more than $1.5 million.

I wonder when the Religious Right will get it.

No comments: