Gov. Sam Brownback was awfully quick to use the word “smear” to dismiss the reported FBI investigation involving close political associates – too quick, given the seriousness and length of the ongoing federal probe. Still, this controversy could end up as all smoke and no smoking gun.
“I’m not seeing the allegations of criminal activity. I’m seeing a lot of efforts to try to smear people,” the governor told The Eagle Monday of the reported federal probe of possible pay-to-play activities relating to former administration officials and longtime political allies. He also defended as proper the state’s bidding process for contracts including KanCare, his signature privatization of Medicaid.
The governor’s comments were his first on the topic since the Topeka Capital-Journal reported April 26 that the FBI was looking into actions of lobbyists including former Brownback chief of staff David Kensinger, who now chairs the governor’s political organization. The Eagle and the Kansas City Star were told by three lobbyists and a former state official that they were interviewed by federal investigators as early as 2012 and as recently as a month ago – so it’s hard to argue the inquiry is either re-election-year politics or old news.
Two of the interviewees said they were intimidated to support and donate to certain candidates by Kensinger, who told The Eagle there was no undue pressure and that no laws were broken.
At worst, it may be what Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, meant when he said lobbying clients “look at the new political environment after each election and they find who they think is, for the cost, the most effective lobbyist for their issue.” That sounds more like pragmatism than corruption.
But some of the details already revealed speak for themselves about the tight bind between political and lobbying clout in Kansas, making this not a “smear” but a cause for concern.