Eagle editorial: Big money behind races

10/30/2012 6:14 PM

08/08/2014 10:13 AM

A few groups and donors are spending a lot of money in advance of the Nov. 6 election, leaving Kansans to sort through the come-ons and wonder what the donors will expect to get for their money.

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce may be a self-described “member-driven organization,” for example, but the big dollars of a few donors have been driving its political action committee’s activity this year.

Monday’s campaign-disclosure filing deadline revealed that the chamber’s PAC spent $543,000 from July 27 to Oct. 25, fueled by more than $200,000 from Crossland Construction Co. and affiliates (headed by chamber PAC chairman Ivan Crossland Jr.), $80,000 from Wichita oilman and chamber chairman David Murfin, and $50,000 from Wichita’s Koch Industries.

Similarly, the $281,000 the chamber PAC spent on Statehouse races leading up to the August GOP primary drew from $125,000 in Koch Industries money.

Koch Industries also gave $25,000 to the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce PAC from July 27 to Oct. 25, helping power its largely successful push to oust some GOP moderate senators and serve Gov. Sam Brownback’s goal of putting conservative Republicans in charge of both chambers.

By contrast, the Kansas National Education Association PAC spent $279,905 and raised $68,040 between July 27 and Oct. 25, most of it from donors who gave $50 or less.

“We need more elected officials in Kansas who lead the charge for the business agenda at the Statehouse in Topeka,” the Kansas Chamber PAC’s website says, in a pitch for donations.

But it’s a concern that the PAC is getting so much of its campaign cash from just a few contributors, who could be looking to Topeka for similarly big returns on their investment.

Monday also spotlighted some troublesome campaign spending locally, as businessman Wink Hartman confirmed that he had funded a Georgia-based PAC’s ads targeting Sedgwick County District Judge Richard Ballinger. Hartman said he did so after he “was called out, by name, in a radio spot from the Ballinger campaign.” Hartman’s effort was meant to support Zoe Newton, Ballinger’s challenger and one of Hartman’s employees.

Hartman, in acknowledging he’d spent “a maximum of $3,000” on the anti-Ballinger ads, said, “We all know politics is a contact sport” and “PACs are the law of the land, agree or disagree.”

Both statements are inarguable.

But it’s an uncomfortable enough fact of life that Sedgwick County picks its District Court judges via partisan elections. If the dirt and third-party groups that have stained so much of politics start influencing local judicial races as well, justice will be among the biggest losers.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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