Businesses large and small gave thousands of dollars to the Kansas Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee, which, in turn, funneled thousands of dollars to conservative Republican candidates who seek to unseat incumbent moderate Republicans.
The chamber backed eight challengers in state Senate races, including two Wichita candidates who received maximum $1,000 contributions in races against incumbent Republican senators.
The chamber’s efforts are significant because the Senate represents the last major stronghold in state government for moderate Republicans. Gov. Sam Brownback has said he’ll stay out of primary contests between Republicans, but his fellow conservatives say ousting several incumbent senators will clear the last significant obstacles to anti-tax, small-government policies.
The chamber is among the most visible groups in Kansas politics, having spent nearly $960,000 total during the past five years through its political action committee and in lobbying the Legislature. Its members include major corporations such as AT&T, Cox Communications Inc., Spirit Aerosystems and Westar Energy. The political action committee’s largest donor last year was Koch Industries Inc. of Wichita, which gave it more than $36,000, according to campaign finance records.
The chamber PAC’s campaign finance report showed that it raised more than $163,000 and spent about $112,000 last year.
Jeff Glendening, the chamber’s vice president for political affairs, said the group hopes to replace the incumbents with “free market” challengers.
One beneficiary of chamber money is Gary Mason, a one-time chair of the chamber board who is challenging incumbent Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick. Another is Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita.
Mason said he’s focused on creating private sector jobs while McGinn thinks government comes first. “I think they see a stark difference between our two approaches,” he said.
McGinn, however, said she strongly supports business and has delivered on major policies backed by the state chamber and the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, which also gave to Mason.
McGinn, who is in her second term from District 31, representing northeast Sedgwick County and Harvey County, said she was surprised to not be included on the state chamber’s 2011 “pro-jobs” list.
Glendening said that list includes lawmakers who sided with the chamber on 80 percent or more of its positions on bills, although he said a lot of discussion also helps the chamber’s political board decide who makes the list.
“The economic growth strategy of those senators (McGinn and Schodorf) has not worked,” he said. Both voted in favor of a temporary sales tax increase in 2010 when the state faced a major budget shortfall.
McGinn has since called for an early repeal of the tax at the start of 2013 instead of in July 2013 because state revenues have improved and are now running ahead of projections.
“I think what we all want is a fair tax for constituents across the state,” she said.
During 2011, McGinn’s campaign raised $67,185; that money, combined with carryover from earlier years, means she had $118,733 available at the start of 2012. Mason raised $54,330, including a $23,000 loan to himself. His money came in the last three months of 2011.
Schodorf raised $39,235 last year and had $56,975 available at the start of the year. Landwehr reported raising $57,030, including a $20,330 self loan.
Landwehr noted that Schodorf has drawn several donations from Democrats.
Among them are Jill Docking and Elizabeth Kinch. Schodorf’s list also includes many Republicans.
Schodorf said the bipartisan support is a result of her experience in nonpartisan office, including the Wichita school board, and decades of time in the community. She is in her third term and represents parts of Wichita as well as Maize.
“I think people see that I’m fair, and I treat people with respect,” she said.
Other incumbent GOP senators whose challengers received maximum contributions from the chamber PAC are Senate President Steve Morris of Hugoton; Pete Brungardt of Salina; Terrie Huntington of Fairway; Tim Owens of Overland Park; Vicki Schmidt of Topeka; and John Vratil of Leawood.