Political heavyweights are opening their wallets in an expensive battle that will possibly decide the direction of Kansas and the fate of Gov. Sam Brownback’s agenda.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee has spent more than a quarter of a million dollars trying to defeat moderate Republicans in next Tuesday’s primary, including several in Sedgwick County.
Better than half the contributions raised by the Kansas Chamber this year, $125,000, came from Koch Industries, the Wichita-based company run by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch.
Meanwhile, a political action committee controlled by moderate Republican Senate President Steve Morris has joined in an unlikely pairing with organized labor to raise almost $200,000 for another PAC that’s working to defeat conservative Republican candidates, including some incumbents.
“This is the war machine spooling up,” said Chapman Rackaway, a Fort Hays State University political science professor. “The tanks are being deployed and the bombs are being dropped, and boy, are they ever.”
Conservatives quickly pounced on the revelation of Morris’ PAC in new campaign finance reports this week, arguing it proved a vote for a moderate Republican really is a vote for a Democrat.
Morris’ Senate Republican Leadership Committee put $100,000 into the Kansas Jobs PAC along with other contributions by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Kansas National Education Association and the carpenters union from St. Louis. The education association put $50,000 into the PAC, while the Teamsters contributed $15,000. The carpenters union added $15,000.
“The secret is out and voters deserve to know the truth,” conservative Sen. Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said. “The liberal leadership of the Kansas Senate has an open alliance with the most liberal unions in Kansas to attack conservatives and implement the Obama agenda.”
Joshua Lewis, Morris’ chief of staff, said all Republicans voted in favor of protecting Kansans from President Obama’s health care overhaul.
“Leadership does not control the Kansas Jobs PAC,” he said. “What Sen. Bruce forgets is that in a Republican state like Kansas, many teachers are likely Republican and union members.”
‘Show your colors’
The Jobs PAC spent $156,035, with money going to moderate Republicans such as Sen. Jean Schodorf of Wichita, Miranda Allen of Kiowa, Joe Beveridge of Lenexa, Sen. Tim Owens of Overland Park, Sen. Roger Reitz of Manhattan, and Tom Wertz of Lake Quivira. Each is facing a conservative candidate in Tuesday’s primary.
Records show some of that money, $40,000, flowed to a group called the Kansas Values Political Action Committee, which gave $1,000 contributions to Schodorf, Allen and several other candidates facing conservative Republican candidates.
Bill Moore, president of Teamsters Local 696, said his group is aligned with moderate Republicans on issues of pensions, education and taxes.
“You’ve got to have a strong community and support education,” Moore said. “If you look at the votes that came from the conservatives, if you look at the votes that came from the moderates, which ones voted for Kansas communities?”
Conservative Senate candidate Greg Smith of Overland Park said the latest financial disclosure suggested that Democrats are cloaking themselves as Republicans. “If they want to be Democrats, be Democrats,” he said. “Show your colors and come out and play.”
Smith’s opponent, Beveridge, received a $1,000 contribution from both the Jobs PAC and the Kansas Values PAC.
Beveridge said that is just a fraction of what he has raised during the campaign. He said it is no secret that he’s supported by the state education association and said that doesn’t undercut his campaign themes stressing the economy, schools and transportation.
“I have support from teachers all over the district,” he said.
Amanda Adkins, chairwoman of the Kansas Republican Party, noted the flap in a message she sent Tuesday to Republicans statewide.
“It has come to my attention that one organization active in the primary has labeled itself a ‘Jobs’ PAC but it is merely a shell for other entities that are not supportive of our philosophy or our plan for pro-growth change,” she wrote.
But Rackaway said the structure Morris is using to give money to moderate Republican candidates is comparable to what the Kansas Chamber and Americans for Prosperity do for Brownback’s candidates.
Records show that the political arm of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce spent $281,599 aiding conservative Republican candidates engaged in primaries across Kansas.
Besides money from the Kochs, the chamber received contributions from KCP&L, Kansas Gas Service, Boeing and Lawrence Paper Co. Retiring state Rep. Owen Donohoe, R-Shawnee, and his company gave the chamber about $9,000.
Tens of thousands from the chamber have flowed into legislative races in the Wichita area, mostly to help conservative Republicans running for the Senate, which has been accused of blocking Brownback’s agenda.
The Kansas Chamber, which advocates for tax cuts and less government, spent at least $36,000 on contributions and advertisements for Wichita-area conservative Senate candidates. Of that, more than $26,000 went for ads by Victory Enterprises in Davenport, Iowa, and Singularis Group in Shawnee Mission supporting Wichita City Council member Michael O’Donnell in his bid to oust Schodorf.
Meanwhile, the Kansas Star Casino Employee PAC entered the scene in June, raising $44,500. Of that, $40,000 comes from its parent company political group, Peninsula Gaming Employee PAC, in Dubuque, Iowa. The rest comes from voluntary payroll deductions and one-time donations from Wichita-area employees who work at the casino in Mulvane.
The casino itself gave $50,000 to Morris’ Senate Republican Leadership Committee.
The Star’s parent company has lobbied against the Wyandotte Nation’s effort to put a casino in Park City, and the casino has fought attempts to ban smoking on casino floors.
The Star’s PAC spent about $39,000 exclusively on moderate Republicans and Democrats, including $15,000 to the Democratic House and Senate campaign committees, $5,000 to the Republican House Campaign Committee and $1,000 each to a variety of incumbent Republican senators, including Schodorf, Morris and Dick Kelsey.
Scott Cooper, general manager of the Kansas Star Casino, declined to speculate on any legislation next year. He said the PAC is intended to protect gaming jobs, continue economic growth and back candidates who “support a stable business climate.”