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KS: Tracking the PACs – big money flowing into crucial Senate contests

By   /   August 2, 2012  /   1 Comment

Big PAC money is pouring into campaigns ahead of next week’s primary election in Kansas, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance.

By Earl Glynn | Kansas Watchdog

TOPEKA —  Big PAC money is pouring into campaigns ahead of next week’s primary election, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance.

But questions surround shifting campaign money and shadowy political action committees, with voters caught in the line of fire.

Conservative Gov. Sam Brownback and the conservative Kansas House see the Kansas Senate as an obstacle to their agenda. Moderates and liberals see the Kansas Senate as their only roadblock to conservative reforms.

Voters in contested Senate districts are receiving dozens of mailings from candidates and outside political action committees, some of which are well known and others that appear only with a postal box address.

Senate Republican Leadership Committee PAC

A leadership PAC, chaired by moderate Republican Senate President Stephen Morris, is one of the big-money players in the Senate battle, but it’s not buying ads. Instead, Morris’ Senate Republican Leadership Committee PAC transferred $170,000 to two other groups to do the work.

Key players supporting moderate Republicans in the Kansas Senate form a complicated web of PACs that give money to candidates and make independent expenditures for and against candidates. (Click on image to enlarge)

Kansas Watchdog reviewed a number of the Kansas PAC reports filed Monday with the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission and created a money flow diagram (see above) to show the major players giving to or receiving money from the Senate leadership PAC.

Some of the groups shown in the diagram may plan and coordinate their actions, but other observed money flows may be coincidental with various groups working in similar ways to achieve similar goals.

Kansas Watchdog contacted Morris by phone at his home in Hugoton on Wednesday. Morris said he “was just walking out the door”  to go “door-to-door” for his own campaign and would not be available to answer questions.

There are some important questions that remain unanswered.

Kansas Watchdog emailed the following questions to Morris and Jamie Lane, the PAC’s treasurer,  should they decide to respond:

  •  Why is the work of the Senate Republican Leadership Committee PAC mostly through other PACs that are relatively unknown to voters?
  • Will a “Paid for by Senate Republican Leadership Committee PAC” message be seen by voters on any campaign materials?
  • What should the public know about the purpose of the Senate Republican Leadership Committee PAC?

Contributors to Senate Leadership PAC

The Senate Republican Leadership Committee PAC reported its recent contributors and expenditures in a filing with the Ethics Commission on Tuesday. Since January the PAC reported raising $127,000 and spending $242,000, leaving $11,000 cash on hand.

Gaming interests accounted for $65,000 of the $127,000 raised. The Kansas Star Casino LLC in Mulvane, bet $50,000 on the Senate leadership PAC, while the Kansas Entertainment LLC, of Wyomissing, Pa., which is related to the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., placed on the table another $15,000.

“Our goal is to protect gaming jobs and continued economic growth in south central Kansas,” Kansas Star Casino general manager Scott Cooper said Wednesday. “We support candidates who support a stable business climate.”

The Kansas Contractors Association PAC gave $20,000 in the recent reporting period, but previously donated $10,000.

The Kansas Realtors PAC gave Senate leadership $10,000.

“We did take a particular interest in the leadership PAC this year due to what we felt was the great decision by Senate Republican leadership to support what we felt was a more common-sense, moderate tax policy,” said Luke Bell, governmental affairs director at the Kansas Association of Realtors. “Specifically one that preserved the ability for taxpayers to claim itemized deductions on their state income tax returns.” Bell said they had been extremely happy with senate leadership the last few years.”

The Greater Kansas City, Missouri Chamber of Commerce PAC added a $12,500 contribution to their $11,100 contribution from last year. Neither of the two chamber PACs from Kansas contributed to the Senate leadership PAC.

In July 2011, the Kansas National Education Association PAC gave the Senate Republican Leadership Committee PAC $25,000, but has not contributed since.

Expenditures by  the leadership PAC

Candidate contributions. The Senate  Republican Leadership Committee PAC contributed directly to 17 Senate Republican candidates:

Independent expenditures

Often to supplement direct support of candidates, PACs make independent expenditures to support or oppose candidates, including giving to other PACs.

While contributions to candidates are restricted by law, there is no limit on the amount transferred between PACs. If a PAC contributes the maximum amount to all candidates of interest, the PAC can extend its influence by creating a new PAC, or transferring funds to an existing like-minded PAC.

Affiliate PACs

Both KNEA PAC and Kansas Realtors PAC have affiliate PACs (see diagram).

National or state groups rebate a portion of membership dues back to the local affiliate PACs for their use.

Some of the PACs supporting “moderate” Kansas Senate candidates or opposing conservative candidates.

KNEA PAC has 22 affiliate PACs, usually broken down by school district or KNEA UniServ area.

KNEA directly gave to four of the 17 Republican Senate candidates endorsed by the Senate president’s PAC. By giving almost $34,000 to 22 affiliate PACs, KNEA affiliates made an additional 12 contributions to Senate candidates.

In all, KNEA PACs made 22 contributions to the group of 17 Senate candidates endorsed by the leadership PAC. (Note: The red numbers in the diagram indicate how many contributions the PAC made to the group of 17 endorsed by the Senate leadership PAC.)

The Kansas Realtors PAC only has two affiliates that have separate PACs. The Realtors PAC gave $15,000 to affiliates, which enabled an additional four contributions to the group of 17 Senate candidates.

The Greater Kansas City, Missouri Chamber of Commerce started using affiliate PACs in 2008 to extend its influence. The chamber directly gave to eight of the 17 endorsed Senate candidates, but its education affiliate PAC made 13 additional contributions. A second affiliate PAC used by the KCMO Chamber stopped operating in Kansas, but it remains active in Missouri.

In a similar way, the Senate Republican Leadership Committee PAC made two large contributions to the Kansas Traditional Republican Majority PAC and Kansas Jobs PAC to extend its influence. These PACs made an 27 additional contributions to the group of 17 moderate Senate candidates.

KTRM PAC

The Senate Republican Leadership Committee PAC sent $70,000 to the Kansas Traditional Republican Majority in three payments: $20,000 on June 14, $10,000 on July 11 and $40,000 on July 17.

Based on dates of expenditures, KTRM used the first $20,000 to make contributions to candidates.

KTRM used the $40,000 received on July 17 to place newspaper ads and to send mailings in support of some candidates, including Joe Beveridge, John Coen, Pat Colloton, Tim Owens, Roger Reitz and Kay Wolf. From the PAC report, apparently KTRM spent money for mailings against Joe Patton and Tom Arpke.

KTRM started in 2005 with the purpose of disempowering the “far right.”

In 2007, KTRM shared major donors with the Kansas Democratic Party.

Last year KTRM received all $10,000 of its funding from the United Transportation Union of Cleveland, Ohio.

Kansas Watchdog tried to reach KTRM chairman and treasurer Andy Wollen by phone and email, but Wollen did not respond to requests for comment.

Kansas Jobs PAC

William Wilson started Kansas Jobs PAC on June 18 with a Topeka post office box for an address. Wilson is the chairman and treasurer of the PAC but nothing else is known about him.

The phone number given in the Statement of Organization is answered by a recording machine that responds “the party you are calling is not available.” Kansas Watchdog left a message but has received no reply.

The Senate Republican Leadership Committee PAC sent $100,000 to the Kansas Job PAC in three payments: $20,000 on June 18, $30,000 on June 17, and $50,000 on June 18.

There were only three other contributors to the Kansas Jobs PAC: KNEA PAC, $50,000 on June 19, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, $15,000 on July 10, and Carpenters District Council of St. Louis, $15,000 on July 23.

In addition to contributions to eight of the group of 17 moderate Republican Senate candidates, Kansas Jobs PAC spent about $70,000 on various independent mailings for and against Senate candidates.

Kansas Values PAC

Ryan Wright opened the Kansas Values PAC on June 17 with a Topeka post office box for an address. Wright, who is the PAC’s chairman and treasurer, is the former executive director of KTRM and served as the KTRM PAC treasurer in 2008.

On July 19 Kansas Jobs PAC sent a $40,000 lump sum payment to the Kansas Values PAC.

At the end of the July 30 reporting period, Kansas Values PAC sent contributions to nine of the 17 Senate candidates endorsed by the Senate Republican Leadership Committee PAC, but had not initiated any independent expenditures. The PAC has more than $11,000 in cash for such expenditures before the election.

A call to Ryan Wright at the phone number given in the Statement of Organization resulted in the same phone recording as the phone number for the Kansas Jobs PAC. The phone numbers for the two PACs differ only by one number — ”5″ in the last digit.

Nonprofits

Several mailings in the Kansas Senate races from Kansas Values Institute have been reported. “Issue advocacy” mailings are missing the magic words “vote for” or “vote against” a candidate.

Kansas Values Institute

Kansas Watchdog received four reports about “issue advocacy” mailings from the nonprofit Kansas Values Institute. It is unknown how many mailings the nonprofit made.

Most of the information known about the Kansas Values Institute is on its website, which gives a post office box for an address in Topeka and a street address in Wichita.

The group’s donate page says it is an IRS 501(c)(4) issue advocacy organization. The contact page shows a link to Facebook that does not work and a Twitter account with no tweets and six followers.

Issue advocacy mailings never have the words “vote for” or “vote against” a candidate, and often invite voters to call a candidate.

In Johnson County, Kansas Watchdog obtained copies of a positive mailing by KVI for Pat Colloton and a negative mailing against Jim Denning.

There is no known document proving a connection between the Kansas Values PAC and the Kansas Values Institute, but there is some circumstantial evidence.

At a minimum, the names are similar, Kansas Values PAC and Kansas Values Institute, and Ryan Wright has connections to both. Both have Topeka post office box addresses, but different numbers.

The articles of incorporation of the Kansas Values Institute indicate the nonprofit was created in June 2011 with three officers:

A portion of a Kansas Values Institute negative “issues advocacy” mailing against senate candidate Jim Denning. Denning said KVI claims against him are misleading.

Senate candidate Jim Denning of Overland Park, was on the receiving end of a negative KVI “educational” piece.

Denning took exceptions to the claims leveled against him by KVI, adding that he had no idea why there was a claim that he drove up property taxes.

“We passed no legislation that would raise property taxes,” Denning said, adding that  claim was “totally misleading.” Denning said all the KVI claims against him were misleading.

Conservative opposition to moderates, liberals in Kansas Senate

The conservative side of the battle over the Kansas Senate does not have the complexity of the analysis of the Senate Republican Leadership Committee PAC.

Secretary of State Leadership PAC

In February 2012, Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach started the leadership political action committee Prairie Fire PAC.

In the July PAC report filed Monday, Prairie Fire reporting it raised $19,700, spent $10,800 with $8,900 cash on hand.

Three of the eight Prairie Fire contributors gave $5,000 with others giving $1,000 or less.

Prairie Fire contributed to 12 conservative Senate candidates

Kobach’s leadership PAC had no independent expenditures and made no transfers to other PACs.

Independent expenditures

Two of the PACs supporting conservative Kansas senate candidates or opposing moderate/liberal candidates. The Kansas Chamber focuses on economic and business issues. KFL’s focus is on social issues.

In the recent report, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce PAC raised $228,000 and spent $282,000. In comparison, the Senate Republican Leadership PAC raised $126,000 and spent $242,000.

Koch Industries’ $125,000 contribution was the largest to the Kansas Chamber. Three contributions of $10,000 placed second: Kenneth Daniel, NONSUC, 2 LLC and The Lawrence Paper Co.

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce PAC made no transfers to other PACs. Its expenditures included contributions to about 80 candidates and independent expenditures it managed in support of or against a number of candidates.

Affiliate PACs

Groups that may be labeled conservative do not have the equivalent of the affiliate PACs, and do not create multiple PACs for multiple money streams to candidates.

The closest to an affiliate PAC might be the relationship between the Kansas for Life PAC and the Kansas City Regional Kansans for Life PAC.

Unlike the affiliate PAC, neither KFL-related PAC gave to candidates. There was only a single $2,500 transfer from the KC Regional PAC to the KFL PAC.

Right-leaning nonprofits

Kansas Watchdog only knows of two right-leaning no-profits using issue advocacy in the Kansas Senate elections.

Known right-leaning non-profits involved in Kansas Senate contests.

American for Prosperity. “AFP” is a 501(c)(4) issue advocacy group. AFP’s purpose is to “educate U.S. Citizens about the impact of sound economic policy on the nation’s economy and social structure, and mobilize citizens to be involved in fiscal and regulatory economic matters.”

AFP’s IRS 990 can be viewed online at GuideStar.org. Its most recent IRS 990 from 2010 shows total revenue of about $22 million.

The AFP IRS 990 report is an aggregate of its operation in 36 states and Washington, D.C. With no breakdown by state, little can be learned about the money AFP spends in Kansas.

AFP uses issue advocacy in its mailings, which deal with topics such as economic freedom, tax policy and size of government.  It has an office, a staff and answer the phone.

AFP donors and Kansas expenditures are not public information.

JCN. The Judicial Crisis Network used issue advocacy to ask whether state Sen. Tim Owens voted to increase his own pay. Kansas Watchdog still is researching this mailing and is not aware of other issue ads by JCN.

The JCN mailing warrants additional research, though copies of IRS 990s for “Judicial Crisis Network” or “JCN” could not be found online.

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Earl Glynn

  • Earl Long

    Earl, Bless you for what you do. Best regards, EARL