Wichita businessman Wink Hartman says he provided the so-called “secret Georgia money” that has surfaced as an issue in a local judicial race.
In an interview, Hartman said he gave the money for ads against Judge Richard Ballinger because Ballinger’s ads had criticized the judge’s opponent, Zoe Newton, for being a Hartman employee. Newton works for Hartman as a lawyer.
“He personally chose to slander my name, that’s the issue,” Hartman said.
Hartman, who has substantial oil, restaurant and sports properties in Kansas, said he chose to fund the anti-Ballinger ads through a Georgia-based Political Action Committee called SafeNation because his friend and former campaign manager Scott Paradise works there. “I trust him,” Hartman said.
After managing Hartman’s unsuccessful run for Congress here in 2010, Paradise went to Georgia to manage a campaign there this year.
In a written statement, Hartman said he was shocked “when I was called out, by name, in a radio spot from the Ballinger campaign.”
Ballinger’s campaign manager, attorney Steve Joseph, did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Hartman said he had spent “a maximum of $3,000” on the anti-Ballinger ads.
The commercials criticized Ballinger over a 2006 incident when he was chief administrative judge at the courthouse. He stepped down from the largely administrative position and returned to the courtroom bench after an ethics panel admonished him for failing to intervene when another judge pursued an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate court employee, and for “fraternizing” with the court employees after business hours.
The PAC that ran the ads was formed in September and was virtually unknown in Kansas. Until Monday, it wasn’t clear who was funding the PAC.
The Ballinger campaign countered with an ad that said, in part, “Sure, politics is a tough game. But secret Georgia money to elect a judge whose job it is to be fair and impartial? That may happen in Delaware and Illinois, where Zoe Newton practiced law, but it’s never happened in Kansas. And it shouldn’t happen now.”
On Monday Hartman accused the Ballinger campaign of playing the “political crying card” in its response to the SafeNation ads.
“There is no crying in baseball and there is no crying in politics,” he said. “We all know politics is a contact sport. When Ballinger took me out in the streets and start(ed) kicking my ass and also my reputation, what in the world did he and his campaign staff think would happen?”
He also said it’s “absurd” to complain about him funding the ads through the Georgia PAC.
“PACs are the law of the land, agree or disagree,” Hartman said in his statement. “Like them or not they are legal.”
Hartman also said he felt he was exercising his own freedom of speech.
“You may not like the words, but should respect my right to speak,” he said. “I have no agenda but to stand up for my name, my family and our reputations. I hope for good candidates to get elected at all levels.”