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Eagle editorial: FBI probe raises questions

  • Published Tuesday, April 29, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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It’s hardly a good thing for Gov. Sam Brownback and his re-election bid that, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal, his political right-hand man and two other former employees are at the center of an FBI probe related to lobbying and KanCare, Brownback’s signature privatization of Medicaid in the state.

The Capital-Journal reported over the weekend about a months-long inquiry by the FBI related to Parallel Strategies, a self-described “values-driven” public affairs lobbying and consulting firm founded last year by former Brownback staffers David Kensinger, Riley Scott and George Stafford. All three served Brownback during his U.S. Senate tenure, aided his 2010 run for governor and have their own solo lobbying shops. Kensinger served as Brownback’s chief of staff in both Washington, D.C., and Topeka and also directs Road Map Solutions, the governor’s political organization. Scott is the son-in-law of Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.

“Questions center on whether Brownback representatives pressed companies or organizations to hire specific lobbying firms or whether entities that showed inadequate deference were targeted for political or financial punishment,” the Capital-Journal reported.

Kensinger reportedly left as chief of staff two months before contracts were signed with the three KanCare contractors, which now employ as lobbyists Scott, former Kensinger partner Matt Hickam and former Brownback deputy Cabinet secretary Gary Haulmark. In addition, Parallel Strategies is now lobbying for the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty – after the Governor’s Office helped direct the coalition in choosing a firm, according to Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, who said she “questioned the pool of people and the logic of hiring the firm they did.” The FBI probe reportedly has extended to legislators and lobbyists unaffiliated with Parallel Strategies.

Let it be said that a reported federal investigation is a long way from an indictment, let alone a conviction, and that it’s unreasonable to think politicians should be accountable for all actions of their former employees. Plus, an administration guilty of bullying – also alleged in the Capital-Journal article related to KanCare critics including advocates for individuals with disabilities – isn’t necessarily guilty of lawbreaking.

As the article has tongues wagging, though, it raises the question of whether the small, tight-knit political power infrastructure in Topeka has not only turned hard right since 2010 but gone off the deep end ethically. At best, Kensinger and his associates may be guilty of overplaying their hand – something Brownback cautioned newly elected GOP legislators against in the wake of the Brownback-Kensinger-led near purge of moderate Republicans from the Legislature in 2012.

As former Sen. Dick Kelsey, one of that election’s victims, told the Capital-Journal: “I believe it is wrong for people as closely connected to the seat of power to be in a position of lobbying for pay.”

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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