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Kansas Chamber, Americans for Prosperity deny involvement in sending postcards

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Wednesday, May 7, 2014, at 6:43 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, May 9, 2014, at 11:32 a.m.

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— Postcards warning that renewable energy standards have caused higher utility bills came from a new group run by the sister of the chair of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and represented by a lobbyist who previously ran the state chapter of Americans For Prosperity.

Last week, the Kansas House rejected legislation meant to end the state’s renewable energy standards, also called RPS, which require that utility companies get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

Both the chamber and AFP pushed for repeal of the renewable energy standards.

Before the vote, postcards from an organization called the Kansas Senior Consumer Alliance went out in multiple House districts, warning that the standards were responsible for rate increases and urging Kansans to call their representative.

“With the cost of health care, gasoline and even groceries soaring … I CAN’T AFFORD HIGHER UTILITIES BILLS,” the postcard says in bold lettering on one side, accompanied by a picture of an elderly man with a worried look on his face.

On the other side, an elderly woman looks over her electric bill. The text says Kansas has seen 15 rate hikes since the renewable standards was implemented in 2011. It says rates have risen 27 percent in other states with similar standards. It does not cite a source for the information.

The Kansas Corporation Commission found that the standards were responsible for only about 2.2 percent of the increased cost of electricity. The majority of rate increases are caused by the cost of upgrading coal plants to meet environmental standards.

Rep. Don Hineman of Dighton, a moderate Republican who voted against the legislation, compared the postcards to financial scams that prey on seniors.

“The objective of the postcard was to scare seniors, get them worried about their utility bills and leave the impression that maybe their representative isn’t representing their interests in that regard and that’s a false assertion. It really is a political scam,” he said.

Alan Cobb, the registered lobbyist for the group who previously worked as state director of Americans For Prosperity and as a lobbyist for Koch Industries, defended the postcard.

“Our utility rates are pretty scary for those on fixed incomes,” Cobb said. “It sounds to me like that’s just a way for them to dodge the fact that RPS causes higher electricity rates.

“It was a pretty standard political mailer that we’ve all seen in Kansas a thousand times.”

He also said claims made by RPS supporters that ending the standards might hurt the wind industry and cost jobs in Kansans could be viewed as scare tactics.

“Facts are facts. People can decide on their own, the individual voter, how they want to interpret them,” he said.

Cobb later said in an e-mail that the assertion of 15 rate hikes was based on testimony from the Citizens Utility Ratepayer Board. He said the 27 percent figure came from multiple sources, but was unsure of its original source.

The return address on a postcard sent out in Hineman’s district belongs to Virginia Crossland-Macha, a conservative activist in Iola who is the sister of Ivan Crossland, the chair of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

Emily Mitchell, spokeswoman for the chamber, said neither she nor any of her colleagues had any knowledge of the postcards.

“We have no clue what it is,” Mitchell said. “It would have nothing to do with us.”

Crossland-Macha said her brother had nothing to do with the postcards and said that she formed the organization on her own to help seniors.

“Right now, they’re really struggling to survive,” she said.

The group officially formed as an LLC, or limited liability company, on April 24, according to the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office. That’s about a week before the final vote on the energy standards.

Jeff Glendening, AFP’s current state director, said the two organizations did not coordinate on the postcards and that the only connection was that they’re both opposed to the RPS. But he said that the two groups could potentially work together on the issue in the future, noting that he’s known Cobb for more than a decade.

Crossland-Macha said she asked Cobb to be a lobbyist because of his experience and because they’ve known each other for several years. But she said she plans on doing most of the work herself.

“I’m a grassroots person,” she said.

Hineman, the Dighton legislator, said he was skeptical about whether the organization was truly grassroots or concerned with the welfare of seniors.

“That’s what raises the red flags. It’s fairly easy to connect the dots back to Kansas Chamber and AFP,” he said.

Hineman got two calls from constituents before the RPS vote, both urging him not to change his position, he said.

He expects such postcards to play a big part in the upcoming House primaries, as they did in 2012 Senate races.

“And I think it’s important for all of us, all voters, to pay attention to where the postcards come from and who the people are behind those postcards, and what their true objectives might be,” he said.

Postcards also went out in the districts of Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, Rep. Steven Becker, R-Buhler, and Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, all of whom are moderates who voted against ending the RPS, on the grounds that it has helped create jobs in the wind industry.

“I’m guessing that this will be a very lucrative campaign season for the U.S. Post Office,” Hineman joked.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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