The state's Republican members of Congress have a wealthy corporate benefactor in Wichita.
The state's congressional delegation in Washington has incentive to drop what they're doing and pick up the telephone when folks call from Koch Industries.
Individuals affiliated with the Wichita firm invested at least $130,000 in their 1996 election victories.
Koch Industries was the most lucrative corporate connection for all six Kansas winners in terms of contributions reported to the Federal Election Commission.
"That's the mark of a real major player who wants to make sure ... the right people are elected, from their perspective," said Burdett Loomis, professor of political science at Kansas University.
Early signs are the Koch contingent intends to repeat the effort during the 1997-98 campaign season.
"This is not done willy-nilly," Loomis said. "It strikes me as pretty sophisticated strategic giving."
Jim Sheffield, a Wichita State University associate professor of political science, said Koch Industries has become one of the most powerful influences in Kansas politics. Koch assets are primarily funneled to conservative candidates and causes. All members of the Kansas delegation are Republicans.
"The interesting thing is the clear partisan slant of their activities," Sheffield said.
Direct Koch-linked contributions of "hard money" -- gifts of more than $200 by identifiable individuals or political action committees divulged to the FEC -- to the state's four representatives and two senators totaled $130,600 in last year's election.
"Koch has a long history of support for issues that advance our commitment to free-market principles," said Jay Rosser, director of corporate communications for Koch Industries.
"A number of our employees and managers actively support those objectives as well."
The most significant beneficiary was Sen. Sam Brownback, who ran a high-stakes race against Democrat Jill Docking of Wichita.
Brownback accepted $41,150 from Koch Industries' political action committee and people who listed Koch as their employer on FEC filings.
"If you look at large donations into the system, that has the potential to skew it," Brownback said. "I do everything I can not to let it make a difference."
FEC reports say Rep. Todd Tiahrt, who represents a House district that comprises Wichita, pulled in $32,650 from Koch interests.
At one $250-a-plate fund-raiser in spring 1996, Tiahrt convinced 29 Koch employees to donate to his campaign. The event, hosted by Koch Industries President Bill Hanna, attracted some of Wichita's most affluent. In exchange for hors d'oeuvres and cocktails, Tiahrt walked away with nearly $100,000.
"I support the constitutional right of everyone to voluntarily participate in the political process," Tiahrt said.
Sen. Pat Roberts collected $21,500 from people hitched to Koch Industries. The man who replaced Roberts in the 1st District of western Kansas, Rep. Jerry Moran, made use of $13,300.
Reps. Jim Ryun and Vince Snowbarger, who won in congressional districts that include portions of Douglas County, both received $11,000 in the waning days of the campaign from people tethered to Koch.
In preparation for 1998 re-election campaigns, Koch interests recently gave $5,000 to Tiahrt and $1,000 each to Moran, Ryun and Snowbarger.
Snowbarger, who represents Lawrence in Congress, said critics of Koch Industries' efforts to collectively support candidates need to examine the Constitution.
"There is some assumption that money influences," he said. "I don't necessarily agree with that. Money is a form of speech. That's the way some people express themselves in political campaigns."
The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics summarized FEC reports from the victorious Kansas congressional candidates. A review of FEC filings indicates Koch employees, mostly managers and executives, kept the money flowing to Brownback, Roberts, Tiahrt and Moran during the campaign.
It wasn't until the final stage of the general election that Koch directly infused significant cash into the Ryun and Snowbarger campaigns. Kochpac, the Koch Industries' political action committee, handed both $10,000.
During the 1995-96 election season, Koch Industries Chairman Charles Koch wrote 20 personal checks totaling $19,000 to individual candidates. One-third of the money went to the Kansas delegation.
He also sent the maximum $10,000 to Kochpac, while brother and Koch Industries partner David Koch gave $5,000 to their PAC.
At least 15 Koch executives each donated $10,000 to Kochpac. The Washington-based PAC distributed $52,000 to the six Kansans elected to Congress.
David Koch doled out 25 personal checks worth $21,000 during last year's elections. Brownback, Tiahrt and Roberts directly benefited.
He also donated $365,000 in "soft money" -- legally given by corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals to sidestep laws on fund raising -- to Republican organizations during the past two years.
In July 1996, he wrote the Republican National Committee a check for $250,000. He added $50,000 in July 1997.
William Koch, who is no longer part of Koch Industries and takes a more bipartisan approach to political giving, targeted $33,000 to Republican and Democratic candidates and campaign committees during the last election cycle.
He sent $100,000 in September 1996 to the Republican National Committee. The FEC has no record of Frederick Koch making political donations during the last campaign.
FEC reports indicate campaign gifts were made in 1995-96 by dozens of people with corporate ties to Koch Industries.
The list of individual donors includes (each of the following also donated the maximum $10,000 to Kochpac):
- Charles Koch's wife, Elizabeth, who spent $20,000 -- nearly all to out-of-state candidates.
- Paul Brooks, senior vice president, $11,500 with the maximum $2,000 each to Brownback, Tiahrt and Roberts.
- Bill Hanna, president and chief operating officer, $4,500 divided among Brownback, Tiahrt and Roberts.
- Bill Caffey, executive vice president, $4,200 with support for Roberts, Tiahrt, Moran and Brownback.
- Sterling Varner, retired president, $4,000 total with $2,000 to Brownback and $1,000 to Roberts.
- Lynn Markel, executive vice president, $3,700 divided among Brownback, Roberts, Tiahrt and Moran.
- Donald Cordes, chief legal officer, total contributions of $3,400 with $1,000 to Tiahrt.
Rosser said Koch employees were under no pressure to donate to politicans endorsed by Charles and David Koch.
"That's not even an issue," he said.
Months of Republican-led Senate hearings on campaign-finance suggested Democrats sold access to the White House for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. There also were juicy details about Vice President Al Gore's fund-raising tactics and large foreign contributions to Democrats.
The investigation prompted Senate Democrats to launch a counterattack.
Eventually, their wrath was directed at Triad Management Services, a political consulting firm in Washington that relied on secret donors to pay for political advertising that undermined Democrat candidates nationwide.
Triad arranged about $1 million in ads against Democrats running for Congress in Kansas. Triad-directed commercials assisted Brownback, Tiahrt, Snowbarger and Ryun.
One source of Triad money was the Cone family of Pennsylvania, which donated up to $1.2 million to Triad and its two tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations.
The other source was the Economic Education Trust, an entity that investigators working for Senate Democrats believe to be linked to Koch Industries.
"The implication has been that Koch money figured prominently. I have no particular reason to doubt it," said Sheffield of Wichita State.
Koch officials had no comment on Triad.
Triad's nonprofit organizations spent $450,000 on an advertising blitz designed to tarnish Docking. The Kansas Democratic Party attacked Brownback in a similar manner.
Triad devoted $300,000 to ads and telephone solicitations to attack Snowbarger's opponent, Judy Hancock. Triad placed more than $100,000 in ads on behalf of Tiahrt and Ryun.
There's nothing illegal about Triad's activities, unless there was collusion between Triad and candidates.
Topeka attorney John Frieden learned about Triad's influence the hard way during his congressional race against Ryun. Despite Ryun's solid name recognition, Frieden said he had built a slim lead in polls over Ryun in the final month of the campaign. That held until Triad pulled out the heavy artillery.
"There is no candidate that can win with that kind of money coming in. It makes it a complete mockery," Frieden said.
Frieden lost by 17,000 votes out of a quarter of a million cast.
Gov. Bill Graves, a Republican preparing for re-election, said he didn't like secret campaign donations.
"I think everybody ought to disclose," Graves said. "I really worry about these special interests able to contribute to campaigns in Kansas and not disclose where they're getting their money."
If there was a Free Market Party, Koch Industries would likely be a charter member.
"We advance free market ideas," said Rosser, the company spokesman. "We believe the free market is the best system to advance individual and business prosperity. Everybody benefits."
Allan Cigler, professor of political science at Kansas University, said leaders of Koch Industries have been at the forefront of people advocating for individual rights and limited government involvement in business affairs.
"They are extreme libertarians," he said.
Loomis said Koch executives never lost sight of economic self interests when participating in political activities.
"That's one of the beauties of a privately held corporation. You can combine self interest and your own ideological bent."
The folks at Koch should be comfortable with the status quo in Kansas, he said.
"This is the most conservative congressional delegation we've had in a long, long time. These Republicans will be beneficial to them," Loomis said. "A few hundred thousand here or there is regarded as a prudent business expense."
-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is email@example.com.