WICHITA — The Kansas Democratic Party today called for an investigation into whether election bribery laws were broken when a coupon for a free meal at Mike's Steak House was included in some Republican campaign literature.
The owner of Mike's Steak House and the Republican candidate said they didn't know anything about it.
Kenny Johnson, Democratic Party executive director, said in a news release that the coupons were attached to campaign literature for Leslie Osterman, a Republican candidate for the District 97 seat in the Kansas House of Representatives. Johnson said he asked the Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office to investigate.
Osterman said he was blindsided by the allegations.
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"This caught me by total surprise," he said. "I knew nothing about it.... I did not authorize any coupon to go in any of my literature whatsoever."
Osterman's Democratic opponent, incumbent Dale Swenson, said he thought the coupons constituted a clear violation of election law.
"It looks like bribery to me," he said. "I don't know if it'll work, but it certainly looks like bribery to me.
"I think it just looks bad. Certainly I wouldn't be swayed in any election by a coupon."
The literature in question included what appeared to be a copy of an Osterman campaign flier that appears next to a copy of a Mike's Steakhouse coupon. The coupon said it was good for a free meal with the purchase of a meal of equal value.
Mike's Steakhouse owner Craig Gabel-clips said he knew nothing about the literature. He said he would never alienate his Democratic customers by affiliating Mike's Steakhouse with a Republican candidate.
He said he uses the two-for-one coupons to lure customers to his south Wichita restaurant.
"We give away coupons everywhere we can," he said. "We give thousands of them away a week. We put them on the windshields of cars at churches on Sundays."
Gabel, an active supporter of the area's political Tea Party movement, has previously distributed two-for-one coupons at the group's rallies.
Voter Melissa Cox expressed outrage over the coupons.
"I don't know if this is illegal or not, but my vote ain't for sale," she said. "And it sure ain't for sale for a two-for-one coupon at Mike's Steakhouse.
"I just don't believe this and these are all over the neighborhood. It's ridiculous."
She said she considers her vote a birthright that her father fought to preserve in World War II.
"I'm a poor woman, but I'm not that hungry," she said.