Politics & Government

Brownback urged to cut ties to former aide

David Kensinger gives a presentation during the Kansas Republican Convention in January.
David Kensinger gives a presentation during the Kansas Republican Convention in January. File photo

Former Sen. Dick Kelsey said Thursday that he has been interviewed by the FBI about Gov. Sam Brownback’s former chief of staff.

Kelsey, R-Goddard, joined Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, at a news conference in Topeka to demand that Brownback cut ties with David Kensinger, his former chief of staff, who currently serves as unofficial adviser to Brownback’s re-election campaign.

The Brownback campaign dismissed Kelsey and Hensley’s claims as nonsense.

Kelsey said he was first contacted by the FBI in March and that his last contact with the bureau was three months ago.

“The FBI called me, and they wanted to talk to me and did a number of times and along with an in-person, two-hour interview,” Kelsey said.

He said he did not know the status of the investigation, but was confident that it is not finished and that Kensinger was the focus.

Media outlets across Kansas reported earlier this year that the FBI was investigating possible influence peddling involving some of Brownback’s top advisers. The investigation seemed to focus on the Brownback administration’s privatization of the state’s $3 billion Medicaid program.

Brownback called the reports a smear campaign.

Kelsey lost his seat in the 2012 primary to Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain. He blamed Kensinger for his loss, accusing him and other Brownback staffers of perpetrating attacks against him before the primary election.

“I was his No. 1 target,” Kelsey said, “because I would not conform to everything the administration wanted and I would challenge things that I saw when I believed they were wrong.”

Hensley said Kelsey was an outspoken critic of KanCare, the privatization of the state’s Medicaid services that Brownback supported.

“He was willing to speak out and speak out honestly,” Hensley said. “And he got punished for being honest.”

Kelsey was one of several incumbent Republicans to lose in the primaries to more conservative challengers in 2012.

The 2012 campaign finance documents for the governor’s Road Map PAC, which Kensinger chairs, shows the political action committee only began spending money on the conservative candidates after the primary.

Still, Kelsey and others insist that Brownback staffers became involved before that. He distributed copies of an anonymous letter he received saying that a private investigator had been hired to dig up information on him.

Kelsey, who has retired to Rogers, Ark., has endorsed Democrat Paul Davis in the governor’s race.

John Milburn, spokesman for the Brownback campaign, issued a short statement addressing Kelsey’s claims.

“Today’s political sideshow was a step down from even the usual Democrat political nonsense,” Milburn said. “This was the strangest press conference in recent memory.

“Unsupported wild accusations by people who clearly think they are losing a campaign of ideas is not news. We did learn two things today – these false smears are driven by political motivations and Democrats have no positive ideas to offer voters.”

Kensinger did not return a request for comment.

Kensinger’s relationship with Brownback dates back to 1994 when he worked on his congressional campaign. He ran Brownback’s 2010 campaign for governor and served as his chief of staff before stepping down in April 2012 to forge a career as a lobbyist and political consultant.

Kensinger has developed a reputation for hardball politics both in Washington and Topeka. The website of his consulting firm, Parallel Strategies, includes a testimonial from U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, whose 2008 campaign Kensinger managed, referring to him as “the true Machiavelli of Kansas, David Kensinger, our pitbull without lipstick.”

Kensinger is an unpaid and unofficial adviser, according to the Brownback campaign. His name does not appear on the campaign’s July campaign finance filing, but his sister, Tricia Kensinger Rice, and her business, Kensinger Rice Consulting, are listed several times, receiving more than $13,700 between January and July for “miscellaneous fundraising” and supply reimbursements.