Clarification: Lynn Stephan's role with Stephan Advertising and Kansans for Kansas has been clarified from a previous version of this story.
Negative ads are piling up in Republicans mailboxes this week, offering misleading statements, altered photos and run-of-the-mill election season ugliness.
A lot of voters throw them away without reading. Others take a glance and wonder why they even bother to vote.
But the big businesses and wealthy political donors arent giving their money to political action committees and candidate campaigns for nothing.
The simple reason candidates use these is that it works, said Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University.
Many people say they dont like the negative ads, but studies show voters put more credence in them than in positive promotional material, he said. When you say anything bad about a politician, people tend to believe it, he said. Thats the culture right now.
One of the most-used concepts this year is saying a candidate voted against giving Kansas the right to opt out of Obamacare, which refers to the federal healthcare law called the Affordable Care Act.
State lawmakers failed to approve a move that would have let Kansans vote on a constitutional amendment this November that would have said Kansans cant be forced to buy health insurance.
But that wouldnt have a direct impact on the federal healthcare law that the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld anyway. At best, it would have helped the state file a lawsuit to show the law conflicts with the states constitution, a move that legal experts have repeatedly said probably wouldnt succeed. (States can opt out of part of the law expanding Medicaid, the high court said.)
Whats more, two candidates most targeted for not letting Kansas opt out, Sens. Carolyn McGinn and Jean Schodorf, voted in favor of letting Kansans vote on the issue. Theyre targeted by Americans for Prosperity instead for their votes in favor of an amendment that would have said Kansans wont vote on the issue if the Supreme Court rules the law constitutional, which it did, thereby pre-empting state laws.
Another claim thrown around is about how often candidates sided with Democrats or Obamas agenda. Given that most votes are conducted without much debate and are generally making minor changes to comply with federal laws or making minor changes to update state laws, its not surprising that members of both parties agree. Conversely, that means Democrats vote with Republicans most of the time.
ODonnell vs. Schodorf
One of the races that has drawn the most negative sentiments is the District 25 state Senate Republican primary between Wichita City Council member Michael ODonnell and incumbent Sen. Jean Schodorf.
ODonnell has a campaign flier out that calls Schodorf a taxing queen and shows an altered photograph of her with a crown on her head and money flying around. The claims reference a 2010 temporary sales tax increase lawmakers approved to avoid cuts to state services in the wake of the recession; an obscure vote to continue taxing dividend income in 2003; and a 2002 vote for sales, cigarette and corporate tax increases that lawmakers said was the only way to avoid service cuts in the wake of the recession brought on by the Sep. 11 terrorist attacks.
Kansans for Kansas was formed in March by Lynn Stephan, a corporate officer with Stephan Advertising, which is the agency used by Schodorf's campaign. Lynn is listed as the company's secretary in state business filings, but she said she has no active participation in the business, which is owned by her husband.
Kansans for Kansas has produced several ads that call O'Donnell "Mikey" and depict him as a cartoon baby wearing a diaper and holding a lollipop.
Those ads claim ODonnell voted against aviation jobs. He voted against an incentive for Hawker-Beechcraft because the company and city hall boasted the move would guarantee 4,000 jobs would stay in Wichita when, in fact, the contract required the company to keep 3,600 jobs. ODonnell said his opposition was also based on the companys woeful financial outlook. The company is now in bankruptcy.
Ad agencies and outside groups
You have to laugh about it because its so ridiculous, Schodorf said, referring to both ads. People are sick of the postcards and stupidity like this.
She said she wants third party groups, such as Kansans for Kansas and Americans for Prosperity, to be forced to disclose who gives them the money they use to berate candidates. Thats an idea that has failed in the past.
ODonnell hasnt called for such disclosure or signed a fair-campaign pledge. And he thinks the Kansans for Kansas group is just a way for Schodorf, who has signed a clean-campaign pledge, to keep her attack ads at arms length.
ODonnell, meanwhile, has approved a round of negative ads that dig at Schodorf. He said the crown photoshopped onto her head was the idea of a company he pays for advertising, but he said he doesnt shy away from it.
Calling somebody royalty versus calling somebody a baby is two different leagues, he said. When Jean and her friends started sending out those cartoons about me, they started it.
Stephan formed the Kansans for Kansas company, which is not subject to campaign finance disclosure. Stephan Advertising is the primary advertising designer for Schodorfs campaign.
Schodorf said theres no coordination or conspiracy there and that she didnt even realize the connection. But ODonnell sees it as a sign that Schodorf is aware and supportive of the attack ads sent out by Kansans for Kansas.
In my opinion, it all plays together, he said.
ODonnell, meanwhile, said he just switched ad companies from the Kansas City-area based Singularis Group to a local firm. Singularis produced an ad for ODonnell that was distributed and misspelled the word career as careeer and politicians as politicans.
Singularis has been one of the most popular ad firms among conservative Republicans and was heavily tapped by Gov. Sam Brownback during his 2010 run for governor.
Mason vs. McGinn
Meanwhile, the Wichita-based Kansas Values Institute put out a postcard claiming Mason, who is challenging McGinn, made his living working as an EPA regulator, then decided to start a company so he could profit off big government mandates and anti-business regulations.
Mason worked for the EPA for about three years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He worked for Vulcan Chemicals for about eight years before starting iSi Environmental, his company that helps other businesses comply with environmental laws.
Mason has been outspoken about eliminating environmental regulations and outsourcing some environmental inspection and permitting work.
The Value Institute ad says liberal Governor Kathleen Sebelius praised Gary for his regulatory work when she appointed him three times to be her representative on an environmental board.
Mason was first appointed by Republican Gov. Bill Graves to the Small Business Compliance Advisory Panel. Sebelius reappointed him.
In some cases, such ads may be wasted money, paper and effort.
Ron Bouska, a Republican voter in District 25, said that few of the ads have even caught his eye.
Bouska said the ads dont have any impact on him and that he probably wont even vote in the Schodorf-ODonnell race.
I just feel like on the smaller elections, I should let the more informed people vote, he said. Ill just vote Republican in the general anyway.
And for some voters, a call from a reporter is just the latest in the chain of calls and mail and ads that interrupt their day.
One voter said he just throws the ads away. Its a waste of money and it irritates people, he said.
Then he said hed had about enough.
Thank you. Click.
The candidates who are behind a good chunk of those ads say even they understand the sentiment.
People are very upset about it, ODonnell said. Its not healthy.
But he said he feels he needs to try to get the truth out.
Schodorf said this years primary is among the most disgusting and divisive she has seen, at least on the state Senate level.
People are sick to death of it, and theyre not reading it anymore, Schodorf said. In one more week all this will be over, at least until October.