National PAC puts focus on school board races, including in Kansas

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 6:19 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Elections in odd years are often low-interest and low-turnout. But ahead of local elections on Nov. 2, a national Political Action Committee (PAC) has been putting its focus on some school board races, endorsing candidates in several states, including Kansas.

The Andover school board race is one of five in The Sunflower State where the 1776 Project PAC is focusing some of its attention. The New York-based PAC has endorsed three candidates in the Andover school board race.

The three candidates are Audra Bell, Tim Brunson and Brad Mirakian.

They’re on the ballot next month facing Sonia Cox, Jill Hodge and Josh Wells.

Those endorsements are where the PAC’s involvement stops. Campaign finance records show no spending from the PAC on Kansas races.

School board members are elected to a position with no compensation and a lot of responsibility. The boards consist of volunteers who aren’t linked to any political party on ballots.

“Americans are activated right now by national politics and they’re just looking for places to get involved,” said Wichita State University Political Scientist Dr. Neal Allen of the 1776 Project’s interest at local levels.

Dr. Allen explained that social media allows national groups to endorse local candidates without much effort or spending.

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is among the issues that come up with the national PAC’s interest in school board races. The PAC opposes CRT in schools and is endorsing candidates with similar positions.

A basic definition of CRT is an academic and legal framework examining how racism is part of laws and institutions in the United States, that different outcomes emerge based on race.

Dr. Allen said turning small school board races into the setting for these kinds of national issues isn’t the best stage.

“A lot of the debate over critical race theory is a distraction from real issues that schools have to deal with, like how to fund their schools, how to retain their staff and how to do all the things we ask schools to do,” he said.

Campaign finance records show the 1776 Project received about $290,000 in campaign contributions and spent about the same over the past three months. None of that spending was in Kansas.

Eyewitness News reached to the three Andover school board candidates the PAC endorsed. All three said they never received funding from the 1776 Project or had communication with the PAC’s organizer.

The Kansas Government Ethics Commission said school board candidates are not subject to state campaign finance law except for Wichita because the student population of the Wichita school district is more than 35,000.

There remain some disclosure requirements under other state laws for candidates and outside groups.

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