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Kan. lawmaker faces ethics complaint over duplex

Published on -9/20/2012, 4:09 PM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A conservative Democrat in the Kansas House faces a state ethics commission hearing over a complaint filed by the chairman of her own party's gay-rights caucus that alleges she improperly failed to publicly disclose her ownership of a rental property.

Rep. Jan Pauls of Hutchinson acknowledged Thursday she didn't list the duplex on statements of her substantial financial interests until questions arose in July, but she said she didn't think she had to because the property has never produced income. She alleged that "outside agitators" have raised the issue as part of an ongoing effort by gay-rights advocates to prevent her re-election this year.

The Governmental Ethics Commission has scheduled its hearing in her case for Oct. 24, less than two weeks before the Nov. 5 election, and it will be the second time in five months that a state board has considered a complaint against Pauls from gay-rights advocates. In June, a state elections panel rejected a challenge to her candidacy based on questions about whether she truly lived at the address she claimed in filing for office.

Gay rights advocates have targeted Pauls because of her strong support for legislation that critics say would nullify local anti-discrimination ordinances helping gays and lesbians. Also, she has long voted with Republican religious conservatives on marriage, gay rights and other social issues, putting her to the right of many Democrats.

"One would wish that these people had a life," Pauls said. "But if you're their project, you're their project."

The ethics complaint against Pauls was filed in July by Ryon Carey, of Lindsborg, chairman of the Kansas Democratic LGBT Caucus, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in Kansas. Before his filing, Carey disclosed his plans to the Hutchinson News, but the ethics commission didn't make his complaint public until Wednesday, after members found probable cause to believe Pauls may have violated the law.

If the commission concludes an official broke ethics laws, it can impose a fine of up to $5,000 for the first violation, though penalties are often much lower.

Carey didn't return telephone messages seeking comment Thursday.

But Tom Witt, executive director of the Kansas Equality Coalition, the state's leading gay-rights group, said Pauls isn't giving a credible explanation in saying she didn't think she had to list the duplex in her statements. He noted that before Pauls, an attorney, began serving in the House in 1991, she was a district court judge and a county prosecutor.

Witt also dismissed Pauls' claims that she is being targeted by "single-issue people." If gay-rights advocates are leading the effort, he said, "I think every progressive in the state would like to see her go."

"Now she's being held accountable, and she doesn't like it," Witt said.

In her Aug. 7 primary race in the 102nd House District, Pauls prevailed by only seven votes over Erich Bishop of Hutchison, who had the LGBT Caucus' support. Her Republican opponent is Dakota Bass, also from Hutchinson, who was a registered Democrat and a leader of another party caucus for progressives until June.

State law requires legislators, hundreds of other officials and candidates to file statements of their substantial interests with the secretary of state's office each year by April 30. Officials and candidates must list any business ventures in which they or their spouses have an interest of more than $5,000 or 5 percent, whichever is less.

The Reno County register of deeds' office said Pauls and her husband bought the duplex in November 2006. Tax records available online list the property's value as $44,200.

The property was not listed on Pauls' annual statements of substantial interests from 2007 through April 2012.

In July -- the day the Hutchinson News posted its story online about Carey's plans to file an ethics complaint -- Pauls filed a revised statement listing herself and her husband as owners of Pauls Rentals, an "apartment rental" venture with the same address as their home.

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Online:

Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission: http://www.kansas.gov/ethics/

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna

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