Politics & Government

‘Not normal’: Bulk of campaign cash in race for Kansas governor comes from candidates

During a campaign stop, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, left, listens as Wink Hartman, right, speaks on March 21, 2018, in Topeka. Kobach named Hartman as his running mate in his campaign for Kansas governor.
During a campaign stop, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, left, listens as Wink Hartman, right, speaks on March 21, 2018, in Topeka. Kobach named Hartman as his running mate in his campaign for Kansas governor. AP

Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s running mate, Wichita businessman Wink Hartman, has given or loaned Kobach’s campaign for Kansas governor more than $1.5 million since the start of the year.

At the same time, independent Greg Orman has spent $650,000 of his own money to boost fundraising totals for his campaign.

“It’s not normal,” said Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas. “The (fundraising) numbers are typical, but the skew toward self-funding is bizarre.”

Roughly 55 percent of all the money in the race for governor has come from the candidates or their running mates, Miller calculated.

Campaign finance reports released Monday signaled the willingness of some candidates to drop significant personal wealth into the race. Republicans and Democrats will face off in primary elections on Aug. 7; Orman must submit signatures to appear on the ballot by Aug. 6.

Republicans

Kobach reported collecting $1.6 million between Jan. 1 and July 26, but the vast majority came from Hartman.

When Hartman’s loans are excluded, his campaign raised roughly $150,000 in contributions, which puts him far behind Gov. Jeff Colyer and state Sen. Laura Kelly, the Democratic front-runner.

“Overall, it’s interesting how poor of a fundraiser Kobach has been,” Miller said. “There were great expectations on him a year ago.”

Miller said it’s not unusual for a running mate to put money toward the campaign, but for Hartman to be the campaign’s primary funder is unusual.

Hartman said in a statement Tuesday that as a businessman, he knows “how important it is to invest in great leadership, and as a conservative, I know how critical investment is to the cause.”

Kobach ended the reporting period with roughly $59,000 cash on hand after spending $1.9 million since January.

Hartman had previously mounted his own run for governor before dropping out and becoming Kobach’s running mate. At the end of 2017, Hartman had given his own campaign $1.65 million.

“If that’s how he wants to fund it, that’s his business,” Colyer said Tuesday when asked about Hartman’s loans after casting an early ballot in Overland Park. He then joked that the race was between him and “Wink Hartman’s checkbook.”

Colyer, who was elevated to governor in January, raised $834,000, with none of it self-funded. Colyer has close to $176,000 cash on hand after spending ahead of the primary showdown with Kobach.

By comparison, former Gov. Sam Brownback had roughly $2.4 million cash on hand at this point in 2014 when he successfully won re-election.

“The support we have received from Kansans all over our state has been tremendous and extremely encouraging,” Colyer said in a statement. “I am humbled that our message of strong, optimistic, competent conservative leadership has resonated so well with Kansans.”

Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University, said that based on the fundraising reports, the GOP establishment appears to have coalesced around Colyer.

“Colyer’s done a pretty good job, but he also seems to have spent most of it,” Beatty observed, noting the governor’s $1.2 million in spending since January.

Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, who filed his report at midnight, had roughly $353,000 cash on hand after spending about $389,000.

Johnson County businessman Patrick Kucera has spent roughly $300,000 of his own money on his campaign since January, accounting for the bulk of the $320,000 he has on hand.

Former state Sen. Jim Barnett, the 2006 GOP nominee, loaned his campaign $505,000 last year. The loans have yet to be repaid, and the candidate had roughly $315,000 cash on hand at the close of the reporting period.

Democrats

Kelly, who joined the race in December, led the Democratic primary field in fundraising with a total of nearly $573,000 between January and July 26.

The party will hold its first primary for governor since 1998.

“Kansas Democrats are energized and excited to participate in the first primary we’ve had in a very long time,” Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said in a statement after her fundraising report was filed.

Kelly had more than $236,000 cash on hand at the end of the fundraising period, putting her far ahead of the rest of the Democratic candidates but significantly behind past Democratic nominees.

Paul Davis, the party’s 2014 nominee, had roughly $1.3 million cash on hand at this point in the campaign. He did not face a primary candidate.

Former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who recruited Kelly into the race, had roughly $1.7 million cash on hand at this point in 2006, the last time a Democrat won the governor’s office.

Miller cautioned against comparing Kelly’s numbers to previous nominees who did not face contested primaries. He said many donors will sit out the race until after the Aug. 7 primary.

“They’re waiting for a nominee so they can just write that small check,” Miller said. “Most of the cash in this campaign is probably ahead of us and not behind us.”

He said that Colyer and Kelly are the only two candidates for governor “who have not self-funded the entire campaign,” which could be an indication of wider grassroots support.

Josh Svaty, a former state representative and secretary of agriculture from Ellsworth, took in more than $213,000. He had roughly $35,000 cash on hand at the end of the reporting period.

“Nothing about the reports surprise us,” Svaty’s spokesman, Mike Swenson, said in a statement. “We have known all along that we would not raise as much money as the Kelly/(Lynn) Rogers campaign. They are both sitting state senators in the middle of their term and regardless of the outcome of the race for governor, they will both be sitting in the Capitol come January.”

Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer raised nearly $81,000. He had about $13,000 cash on hand.

In a statement, Brewer said digital technology allows the campaign to target its message to hundreds of thousands of Kansans through texting, social media and focused advertising on TV, print and radio.

“We are using the newest tools available to more effectively reach voters and drive them to the polls. Campaigning in 2018 looks very different than it did 10 years ago — big money has less influence and I think that’s a good thing for democracy,” Brewer said.

Orman

Orman contributed $250,000 to his campaign on July 20. Six days later, he gave $400,000.

The $650,000 in personal contributions enabled the Johnson County businessman to report a fundraising total of roughly $880,000 for Jan. 1 through July 26. He has about $460,000 cash on hand.

Orman framed the personal contributions as a sign of his commitment to the race.

“As a candidate for governor, I’ve pledged not to take a dime from PACs or lobbyists and the special interests that control both parties and their candidates,” Orman said. “I’ve kept that pledge, and my personal contributions to this campaign show my commitment to always putting this state and its people first.”

Beatty said that while this level of self-funding is unusual for Kansas, it has been typical in other states. He pointed to Colyer’s $500,000 loans to Brownback in 2014 as the start of the trend.

“Traditionally, Kansas was a pretty cheap state to run for office in, and that’s just not the case anymore,” Beatty said. “This has happened for years in big states like New Jersey, New York and California, but it’s a new phenomenon in Kansas, and it’s probably here to stay.”

Orman’s spokesman, Sam Edelen, confirmed in an email the payments to the campaign were contributions rather than loans that would be paid back later in the campaign.

The contributions were listed on the fundraising report as credit card payments, but Edelen said in an email that was an error and that the candidate paid through personal checks.

Orman will need to collect at least 5,000 signatures to appear on the general election ballot. His campaign has spent more than $860,000 since January, which includes a $15,600 July payment to a signature-gathering company.

The Star’s Ed McKinley contributed to this report.

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