Donations Raise Questions About Brownback’s Role In Kansas Supreme Court Retention Battle

Nov 2, 2016

New campaign finance reports are calling into question Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s insistence that he’s not involved in an effort to oust several Kansas Supreme Court justices.

Reports filed this week show that Brownback’s Road Map PAC contributed $65,000 to Kansans for Life in September and October, bringing the total since the first of the year to $110,300.

The contributions from the governor’s political action committee are by far the largest given to the nonprofit anti-abortion organization helping to spearhead an effort to defeat four of the five Kansas Supreme Court justices up for retention in next week’s election.

Brownback said the donations are not evidence that he has gone back on his pledge to stay out of the retention fight.

“I’ve helped and given some funds to Kansans for Life over multiple campaign cycles,” he said.

Questioned by reporters at an event Tuesday in Topeka, Brownback said he intended his contributions to be used for “pro-life causes,” not the retention battle.

But others say the donations and PAC money spent on consultant salaries show that the governor and others close to him are deeply involved in the anti-retention campaign.

“What’s important is not to listen to his words but to look at his actions,” said Ryan Wright, the executive director of Kansans for Fair Courts, a nonprofit advocacy organization working to retain the justices.

The Kansans for Life donations and payments to former members of his campaign now working on the ouster effort demonstrate Brownback’s commitment to its objectives, Wright said. “We know this governor has been raising money for anti-retention efforts,” Wright said. “If you look at the actions, that tells you everything you need to know.”

As a 501 (c)(4) organization, Kansans for Life isn’t obligated to disclose how it is spending the money contributed by Brownback’s PAC. But Mary Kay Culp, the organization’s executive director, told the Wichita Eagle that the funds would be used for the anti-retention campaign, which is being waged under the banner “Better Judges for Kansas”.

Anti-abortion advocates oppose the retention of Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, Justice Marla Luckert, Justice Dan Biles and Justice Carol Beier because they fear they will vote to uphold a lower court decision to block implementation of a law banning the common second trimester procedure of dilation and evacuation that opponents refer to as “dismemberment” abortion.

Voter guides being distributed by Kansans for Life and several other organizations in churches across the state instruct parishioners to vote “no” on those four justices and “yes” on Justice Caleb Stegall, who was appointed by Brownback in 2014.

Another advocacy group, Kansans for Justice, is calling for the ouster of the same four justices but for different reasons. The group represents the families of murder victims upset by the court’s decisions to overturn death sentences. It had spent nearly $280,000 on television ads as of last week, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Kansans for Fair Courts, Wright’s group, had spent almost $223,000. 

Jim McLean is executive editor of KHI News Service, which is a partner in a statewide collaboration covering elections in Kansas. Follow Jim on Twitter @jmckhi.