U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins has formed a political action committee to raise money for state legislative candidates this election.
The Topeka Republican registered the Jenkins Ad Astra PAC on March 8 and will hold a fundraiser at the Topeka Country Club on Wednesday.
Gov. Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach have state political action committees that have gotten involved in legislative races, but it’s rare for a federal official to form a state-level PAC.
“She’s very active throughout the district, has lots of town halls, and some of the most common questions that she gets are about the state-level stuff, on stuff unrelated to federal office,” said Patrick Leopold, Jenkins’ chief of staff.
“The reality is that’s where Kansans are focused right now, and so as a responsible leader within the state … she thinks it’s important for her to also assist the candidates who she thinks are doing a good job or could do a good job,” Leopold said.
He said Kansas law prohibits Jenkins from transferring money from her congressional campaign to the state-level candidates she supports and that forming a state-level political action committee was the simplest way to raise money for legislative candidates in 2016.
He said Jenkins’ fundraising would focus primarily on legislative races that fall within her 2nd Congressional District, which covers most of eastern Kansas, including Lawrence and Topeka.
House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg, welcomed Jenkins’ involvement in state races.
“While I know she remains focused on improving federal policy, we welcome her efforts to assist us as we work to maintain our strong majorities in the statehouse and move conservative principles forward in Kansas,” Vickrey said in an e-mail.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Jenkins’ decision to become involved in state-level races this year could be a sign that she’s weighing a gubernatorial run in 2018.
“I think she’d be better off focusing on not only Washington but her own re-election as opposed to mucking around in legislative races,” Hensley said.
Leopold said the amount of money that the PAC will raise “is not anywhere on the level of anything you would see if you were actually mounting a gubernatorial bid.”
“She’s worried about 2016 and getting re-elected to Congress,” he said. “That’s 100 percent where her focus is right now, but along with 2016 comes the state-level races.”
Clay Barker, the executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said there’s nothing new about federal elected officials getting involved in state races.
“The more help they can give down ballot, the better for us,” Barker said. “If Hensley’s angry, he should help win some federal races for the Democrats.”
Barker said he doesn’t see any legitimate challenge to Jenkins or other Republican congressional incumbents this election and that it make sense for those candidates to help steer resources down ballot.