Amid the last-minute onslaught of mailings, robocalls and media ads, voters need to consider carefully not only the political come-ons themselves but the sources of the money behind them. The people and businesses supporting candidates will expect a return on their investment.
And this week’s filing deadline revealed that the amount of money being spent to influence Tuesday’s primary elections is huge, maybe even historic.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce political action committee has spent $281,000 on Statehouse races, fueled by a whopping $125,000 from Wichita’s Koch Industries. (The next-largest contributions to the PAC were a comparatively paltry $10,000 each.) One of the chamber PAC’s favorites has been Michael O’Donnell, the Wichita City Council member who is challenging state Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita; he has benefited from $27,000 in its spending, including more than $21,000 to an Iowa firm for radio and cable production.
Trying to deny the chamber PAC and Gov. Sam Brownback the conservative control of the Senate they crave, the Senate Republican Leadership Committee has spent more than $242,000 this year. It gave $100,000 to the month-old Kansas Jobs PAC, which also has taken teachers’ union and other union money and spent more than $156,000 on various races.
Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, and Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, have spent $208,000 and $183,000, respectively, trying to stave off their conservative challengers.
Wichita-area local races are shaping up to be big spenders, too, with the Sedgwick County district attorney’s battle already topping $137,000; the Schodorf-vs.-O’Donnell race at $113,000; the primary battle between Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, and businessman Gary Mason exceeding $94,000; the Sedgwick County sheriff’s race at more than $85,000; and the Sedgwick County Commission’s District 3 contest nearing $75,000. That County Commission primary and O’Donnell’s Senate bid also have stoked concerns about the lack of city or state “pay-to-play” rules, which would bar government contractors from donating to the campaigns of those who award government contracts.
And if you’ve ever wondered who’s responsible for all that slick paper clogging up the mailbox, in many cases that is Johnson County-based Singularis Group. The Kansas Chamber PAC has paid it about $100,000 while the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce PAC has paid it more than $18,000 for mailings supporting O’Donnell, Mason and Senate candidate Rep. Dan Kerschen – “even though there are plenty of qualified printers and mailers in the city of Wichita,” as one Opinion Line contributor observed.
And don’t forget that the vast majority of the spending so far has been in battles that pit Republican against Republican. So much for the “11th Commandment,” usually attributed to Ronald Reagan, that “thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican.”
Indeed, it’s hard to predict whether this summer of 2012 in south-central Kansas will be most remembered for its unrelenting heat and drought, or for Republicans’ efforts to pulverize one another at the polls.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman