TOPEKA — Big checks from a few well-known Kansans enriched the Kansas Chamber of Commerce PAC, which attacked Democrats and bolstered conservative Republican candidates across the state, according to new campaign finance reports.
Meanwhile, the Kansas Democratic Party drew big money from its candidates’ campaigns and then redirected that money to blast Republicans and back its own candidates in key races.
Both sides are paying for messages the other side disputes. The money is playing a role in legislative races in Wichita and across the state.
The chamber PAC, which spent $543,000 during the most recent campaign finance reporting period — is trying to brand Democrats as supporters of Obama’s health care plan. That’s based on Democrats’ opposition to a mostly symbolic vote on a proposed state constitutional amendment opposing a piece of the Affordable Care Act that requires people to have health insurance.
Some legal experts say such a vote wouldn’t allow the state to opt out of the federal health care law, as conservatives suggest in attack ads. But conservatives say it could have sent the federal government a signal and potentially help the state’s legal position if a new challenge arises. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled most of the law constitutional.
The Kansas Democratic Party spent $680,000 during the most recent campaign finance reporting period, which covers July 27 to Oct. 25, to fuel candidates’ campaigns and pay for attack ads, such as those that label conservative Republicans bad for education.
Republicans have pushed back, saying Democrats’ claim that Gov. Sam Brownback made the single largest cut to education in the state’s history is bogus.
A series of cuts under Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson amounted to more, they say. They note that overall education spending is up, including a $40 million increase in the most recent budget.
But Democrats say that reductions in per-pupil base state aid in the 2011 budget total the largest single cut, and they contend that, even though Brownback’s most recent budget signature gave more in per pupil aid, more should have been provided to restore cuts made in the wake of the recession.
Democrats recently apologized for attacking Wichita Republican Rep. Joseph Scapa in a mail ad. Their postcard said he voted for the 2011 budget that included education funding cuts. He voted against that budget.
The Democratic Party’s $680,000 in spending outweighs the Kansas Republican Party’s spending of $302,000. Many Democratic candidates are also getting help from the Kansas National Education Association, which added $68,000 to the $630,000 it had on hand in late July.
The KNEA’s recent money came from relatively small donations. It spent about $280,000, mostly supporting Democrats, and has $418,000 headed into the last week of the election season.
As for chamber PAC donors, Crossland Construction Co., headed by chamber vice chairman Ivan Crossland Jr., and its affiliates gave more than $200,000, about $122,000 of which came as a loan. The chamber loaned its PAC $170,000. And Wichita oilman and chamber chairman David Murfin gave the chamber PAC $80,000. Outgoing House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, is the chamber’s new president.
Koch Industries gave $50,000 to the state chamber PAC.
Koch infused the Wichita Area Chamber political action committee with $25,000, making up most of the $35,670 that PAC raised since about a week before the Aug. 7 primary. The PAC spent nearly all of that on conservative Republicans.
The visible PAC money makes up only part of the campaign finance picture. Candidates also raise a lot of their own money and make loans to themselves to pay for ads and operations.
In that respect, incumbent Reps. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, and Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, appear to have one of the state’s most expensive House races. Landwehr spent more than $40,000 since late July. Dillmore spent more than $35,000.
Incumbent Rep. Phil Hermanson, R-Wichita, outspent his opponent, incumbent Democratic Rep. Geraldine Flaharty, $19,800 to $17,300. Incumbent Republican Rep. Les Osterman, R-Wichita, outspent his Democratic opponent, former legislator Dale Swenson, $12,000 to $7,000.
In one of the Wichita area’s most hotly contested Senate races, District 28 Democratic candidate Keith Humphrey outspent incumbent Sen. Mike Petersen, R-Wichita, $57,800 to $42,000. But Petersen enters the final week of campaigning with $64,400 left to spend, compared with Humphrey’s $17,300.
Meanwhile, third-party groups, including think tanks and nonprofits, can raise unlimited amounts of money without disclosing where they got it. And they can spend unlimited amounts as long as it’s not in direct support of a candidate. That’s often avoided by urging a voter to be aware of someone’s record and to tell the candidate what you think instead of direct advocacy, such as telling people to vote for or against a specific candidate.
The undisclosed money played a big role in the primary as local and national groups attacked candidates, helping defeat incumbent Republican Sens. Dick Kelsey and Jean Schodorf. Meanwhile, Wichita City Council member Michael O’Donnell, a conservative Republican, withstood a series of blistering ads from a third party to become the Republican candidate in District 25 against Democrat Tim Snow.