Republican primary races for Kansas Senate seats are awash in an unusual amount of political money as moderate GOP incumbents and their allies try to fend off challengers backed by influential conservative groups.
Campaign finance reports filed with the secretary of state's office and posted online Tuesday showed that most of the dozen Republican senators who've been targeted for defeat from the right have outspent their opponents in the Aug. 7 primary, some by margins of four-to-one or more. Reports also documented a financial alliance between moderate Senate leaders and labor organizations, including the state's largest teachers' union.
Finance reports show that spending by the Republican candidates in half a dozen races has topped $100,000, and the total for both candidates in a Topeka contest exceeds $263,000.
But moderates contend such efforts are necessary to counter conservative organizations, particularly the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the anti-tax, small-government group Americans for Prosperity. The chamber alone reported spending more than $231,000 this month on mailings and broadcast advertising designed to help conservative Senate candidates.
Carol Williams, executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, said political money is more widespread than in past primary seasons.
"We've just not see this kind of money being spent in state Senate races before," Williams said.
The state Senate's moderate GOP leaders have acted as a check on conservative Gov. Sam Brownback's agenda. They resisted his successful push to cut income taxes this year and helped prevent the state from moving new public employees into a 401(k)-style pension plan, blocked a drive to reduce the political influence of unions and prevented moves toward remaking the state's appellate courts.
Conservatives' targets include Senate President Steve Morris, of Hugoton, who faces Rep. Larry Powell, of Garden City, in the GOP primary. Morris has spent more than $183,000 on his re-election campaign, including $148,000 since the start of this year. Powell spent less than $23,000 through late July.
Similar gaps exist in other GOP races. In the Topeka contest, Sen. Vicki Schmidt has spent nearly $208,000, most of it this year. Her challenger, Rep. Joe Patton, has spent about $56,000.
The only moderate Republican incumbent to be outspent is Sen. Roger Reitz, of Manhattan, with reported expenditures of less than $16,000 since the beginning of last year, less than half of what each of his two primary opponents has spent.
The Senate Republican Leadership Committee, a political action committee led by Morris, also has had a significant presence. This year, it has spent more than $242,000, and it received contributions of $70,000 from the companies operating each of the three state-owned casinos in Kansas, as well as donations from the Kansas Contractors Association and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
The PAC also extended its reach by giving $100,000 to the Kansas Jobs PAC, which formed in June, and $70,000 to the Kansas Traditional Republican Majority PAC, most of its funds.
Page 2 of 2 - The Kansas Jobs PAC also received contributions from the Kansas National Education Association, the state's biggest teachers' union, and unions representing carpenters and teamsters. The Kansas Jobs PAC then sent $40,000 to the Kansas Values PAC, which formed July 16 but contributed $11,000 to moderate GOP Senate candidates after eight days in existence.
Each of the four PACs is allowed under Kansas law to contribute $1,000 directly to candidates and do independent mailings and advertising to advocate their election, so long as the activities are not coordinated with them.
"You finally see it on paper — the coalition between the Democrats, the moderate Republicans and the unions," said Jeff Glendening, vice president of political affairs for the Kansas Chamber. "If anyone doubted there was a coalition, they can't anymore."
Meanwhile, the Kansas Chamber's PAC raised about $228,000 from Jan. 1 through Thursday. More than half of it — $125,000, in a single contribution this month — came from Koch Industries Inc., the Wichita-based company headed by prominent conservative political donor Charles Koch, who has also supported the national Americans for Prosperity group.
AFP's Kansas chapter is involved in state Senate races, conducting what it describes as educational campaigns designed to inform area residents about incumbents' voting records. Kansas law doesn't require it or other groups to disclose what they spend on such activities if they don't "expressly advocate" the election or defeat of a candidate.
Terry Forsyth, chairman of the Working Kansas Alliance, a coalition of labor and other groups, scoffed at conservatives for criticizing GOP moderates' willingness to work with unions, saying they're all trying to protect public schools and services that keep communities strong.
"What did you expect, everybody to go to U-Haul and grab a box and go somewhere else?" said Forsyth, who's also a KNEA lobbyist.