Elections Question: How Are The Kochs Influencing Campaigns In Kansas This Year?

Oct 20, 2016

The statewide team that's been collaborating to cover elections in Kansas this year is taking your questions

John Trewolla from Prairie Village sent us this one:

I sure am curious about whether and how the Koch brothers from Wichita are influencing the GOP (especially Brownback's) campaign. Not to put too fine a point on it, is Brownback in their pocket?

First things first. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is not on the ballot this year -- he's in year two of his second term. But the governor's policies on taxes and education are, in fact, at the center of many legislative campaigns in the state.

The Koch entities do have a significant influence on some of those campaigns, though it's not overt.

Charles Koch, chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, during an interview at the Fortune Brainstorm TECH 2016 conference in Aspen, Colorado.
Credit Kevin Moloney / Fortune Brainstorm TECH

They give a lot of money to the Kansas Chamber of Commerce's political action committee -- far more money than any other single contributor -- that is ultimately spent to benefit the campaigns of conservative Republicans.  

For example: Kansas Chamber PAC got $100,000 from Koch Industries last December and then another $70,000 in July just before the Aug. 2 primary elections, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. 

Kansas Chamber PAC, in turn, transferred tens of thousands to MAIN Street Kansas PAC (the Kansas Chamber's vice president of political affairs is the treasurer for both political action committees).

On July 19, it was an infusion of $61,000.

MAIN Street used that money to pay for a bevy of radio spots supporting conservative Republicans on July 20.

MAIN Street paid for a flurry of postcards on July 22 -- $29,600.50 worth, and $5,030 more in radio ads July 25. 

Kansas Chamber PAC reinfused MAIN Street with cash after those last-minute expenditures. 

All of the candidates listed in MAIN Street's expenditure reports above had been endorsed by the Kansas Chamber. They all lost their primaries.

Some of the candidates endorsed for the primaries are still standing, but the Chamber has yet to release a list of endorsements for the general election. And the next batch of campaign finance reports isn't due until Oct. 27, when we could have a better picture of just how much Koch money is still flowing into legislative races, but it's safe to say Koch interests have a hand in state electoral politics. 

Federal Election Commission reports show Koch Industries national political action committee, KochPAC, has also contributed to the campaigns of incumbent GOP Sen. Jerry Moran and incumbent representatives Kevin Yoder, Lynn Jenkins, Mike Pompeo and Tim Huelskamp. All are running in November except for Huelskamp who lost his primary to Roger Marshall. KochPAC did not contribute to Marshall in the primary. The last round of federal campaign finance reports are due later this month and we'll see if KochPAC contributed to Marshall for the general.

We got a related question from Scott Allegrucci in Lawrence about how organizations like the Kansas Chamber, Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Kansas Policy Institute, are linked:

I would like to know more about this network, the financial and political relationships between its participants- especially those who are elected public employees, and the full extent of its impact upon the long term future of the state, region, and nation.

All of those entities, which are lobbying groups and think tanks, have been funded by the Kochs. And all have been a source of policy for state lawmakers favoring less government spending, less regulation and lower taxes.  

Of course the Kochs and the Kansas Chamber aren't the only political players in Kansas. Not hardly.

There are a couple hundred political action committees registered in the state including many that support moderate and progressive causes.

Among them: the PACs belonging to the Mainstream CoalitionKNEA, and various labor groups like the Kansas AFL-CIO that have endorsed and spent money on dozens of Democrats and moderate Republican candidates.

Sam Zeff is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend and covers education for KCUR. Follow Sam on Twitter @SamZeff.

Amy Jeffries is also based at KCUR and is the editor of a statewide collaboration covering elections in Kansas. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyoverhere.