Politics & Government

Mystery company targets Whipple with allegation originally made against Republican

An online video from a mysterious company suggests Wichita mayoral candidate Brandon Whipple, a Democrat, sexually harassed women, but some of the allegations were originally made against a Republican lawmaker.

The video, posted Wednesday on the Facebook page Protect Wichita Girls, features silhouetted women talking about harassment. At the end of the video, the women say “stop Brandon Whipple” and call on him to withdraw from the mayor race.

“He just came up, smiled, looked at me and said, ‘Do your panties match your outfit?’ winked, and then walked away,” one woman says in the video.

That statement matches nearly word-for-word an October 2017 Kansas City Star story about sexual harassment at the Kansas Capitol. about sexual harassment at the Kansas Capitol.

In the story, a woman who served as a legislative intern in 2009 described an experience she had on the Senate floor with a Republican senator. Whipple is a Democrat who serves in the House. Neither the woman nor the senator are named in the story.

“He just came up,” she said in the 2017 story. “And it wasn’t ... it was just like a very passing comment, like he looked at me, he smiled, he said, ‘Hey, do your panties match your outfit?’ and then winked, and then walked on by.”

Whipple, a state representative, denounced the video on Thursday, saying he had never sexually harassed anyone and noting that allegations from the video had been taken from The Star story. He called it “dirty politics.”

“It just shows how desperate the Wichita political establishment is to retain the status quo,” Whipple said in an interview.

Whipple named multiple local Republican elected officials and a local association that he alleged sources had told him were behind the video, but didn’t offer evidence. One of the officials denied the assertion and others couldn’t be reached.

Whipple did not blame his opponents for the video.

Mayor Jeff Longwell’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Lyndy Wells, who on Thursday kicked off a write-in campaign for mayor after coming in third in the August primary, said he did not know who’s behind the video.

While one statement in the video closely resembles quotes from The Star story, the source of others are less clear.

“Half the time he made me the designated driver. Things happened when we were driving,” a woman says in the video.

The Star story cited Whipple as saying that he had been driven by a male intern to an event with other lawmakers, staffers and interns. Wichita State University’s student newspaper, The Sunflower, reported around the same time that Abbie Hodgson, a former chief of staff to the Kansas House Democratic leader, had been contacted by a female intern who had served as a designated driver for Whipple.

“The one time when a male intern drove a group of us to and from an official event was shown to have nothing to do with sexual harassment,” Whipple said Thursday. “So I think they’re doing this because I’m a young male and every time I run in a competitive race, they have attacked my family and they attack my marriage and this is just what they do.”

The video says it was paid for by Protect Wichita Girls LLC.

The company is based in New Mexico and was formed on Oct. 10, apparently for the specific purpose of launching an election attack on Whipple. The people behind the LLC are not publicly identified.

The mailing address in the filing for the LLC traces back to a mail drop in Sheridan, Wyo. The physical address listed for the LLC traces to a company called High Desert Corporate Filing in Santa Fe, N.M.

According to its website, one of High Desert’s specialties is the creation of an “instant anonymous New Mexico LLC,” which costs $185.

“In New Mexico, LLCs are not required to submit annual reports,” the website says. “This means that after formation, your New Mexico registered agent is the only liaison between your LLC and the rest of the world.

“The name and address of your NM registered agent is the only information that is publicly known,” the website says. “We take this job seriously and vow to protect your privacy.”

Whipple said his campaign is hiring legal counsel in New Mexico to track down who’s behind Protect Wichita Girls.

Whether the company will ultimately have to disclose its spending and donors depends on whether its call on Whipple to drop out constitutes express advocacy under Kansas law. Express advocacy is defined narrowly, and the law lists specific terms, such as “vote for” or “defeat” as examples. It’s unclear whether demanding Whipple withdraw from the race would qualify.

Eagle reporter Chance Swaim contributed to this story.

Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.