Topeka In the closing days of last year's election for attorney general, high-profile abortion doctor George Tiller, of Wichita, contributed more than $150,000 to try to defeat Republican Phill Kline, according to campaign finance records.
But the public knew nothing about it.
The contributions did not have to be reported until after the election, and even then, because Tiller's contributions were moved through two political action committees, it was difficult to determine who was spending what on whom.
In statewide campaigns like those for attorney general, individuals are limited in Kansas to contributing $2,000 to a candidate in the primary and $2,000 in the general election.
But there is no limit on contributions used for so-called independent expenditures. Such expenditures advocate for a candidate, but it is done independently of that candidate's campaign.
And such expenditures were used to finance a last-minute push on behalf of Kline's opponent.
For example, on Nov. 1 -- four days before the election to choose between Kline and Democrat Chris Biggs -- Tiller donated $153,000 to Pro Kan Do, an abortion rights political action committee controlled by Tiller, according to campaign finance records.
That same day, Pro Kan Do turned over $153,000 to a political action committee called Kansans for Democratic Leadership. And on Nov. 4 and Nov. 5, Kansans for Democratic Leadership spent $153,000 on pro-Biggs radio ads, according to the documents.
Carol Williams, executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission and a longtime political observer, said such an expenditure was significant in Kansas politics.
"It is a large sum of money," Williams said. "You just don't very often see something that is pretty much bankrolled by one force."
And in the context of Biggs' campaign, the amount was astronomical. In the three months leading up to Oct. 24, Biggs had spent a total of $133,191 on his campaign.
The last-minute barrage, however, wasn't quite enough to put Biggs over the top.
A relative political unknown, the Democrat came within half a percentage point of upsetting Kline, a vocal opponent of abortion.
And the $153,000 hand-off from Tiller to Pro Kan Do to Kansans for Democratic Leadership wasn't the only time it happened.
In the one-month existence of Kansans for Democratic Leadership, it received $265,000. Of that, $258,000 came from Pro Kan Do, and $6,000 directly from Tiller.
Of the funds that Kansans for Democratic Leadership spent, the majority went in support of Biggs' candidacy, though it also spent $93,000 on polling to identify major issues for voters.
A spokesman for Tiller and Pro Kan Do could not be reached for comment.
In the final week of the campaign, Kline recalled this week, he heard plenty of evidence Biggs' supporters had come up with some money.
"I knew there was an extensive influx of cash somewhere because I heard the radio ads virtually everywhere I went," Kline said.
They were negative ads, he said, but didn't mention the abortion issue.
While Kline said the public had a right to know who was bankrolling campaign ads, he wasn't critical of Tiller's expenditures against him.
"I don't have a problem with Tiller's right to do it," Kline said.
In fact, Kline months earlier was himself a beneficiary of an out-of-state group's attack ads. Those ads were against David Adkins, a state senator from Leawood and Kline's opponent in the Republican primary.
In that instance, the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, based in Falls Church, Va., waged a blistering television campaign against Adkins. The group reportedly was affiliated with the gun rights lobby.
Adkins estimated the Law Enforcement Alliance spent $250,000 on the ad blitz. And he said the existence of independent groups entering campaigns "is why people hate campaign finance."
When Adkins faced Kline in the primary, Adkins said Tiller's Pro Kan Do PAC put out a campaign postcard against Kline, but the mailing backfired.
The card said Kline wanted to go back to the days of "coat hangers," when women received illegal abortions.
"It was the most irresponsible political tactic," Adkins said, adding that it probably cost him the votes of thousands of people disgusted by the mailing's harsh tone. Adkins said he was so angry at Pro Kan Do he sent back a $2,000 contribution he received from the PAC.
An official with Kansans for Democratic Leadership said his group's pro-Biggs radio ads were not misleading about the source of their funding.
"Clearly, with an independent expenditure, any group could have done the same thing," said Chris Gallaway, who at the time was executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party and treasurer of Kansans for Democratic Leadership. "Tiller could have called himself 'Republicans for Biggs' and done the exact same thing," he said.
While the money came through Pro Kan Do, Gallaway said it wasn't specifically earmarked by that group to help Biggs. Tom Sawyer, who was chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party, said Democrats at the time were trying to raise money for Biggs, as he was climbing in the polls.
Neither Gallaway nor Sawyer could say why Pro Kan Do didn't simply do independent campaigning itself but speculated Pro Kan Do could have been focusing on other political races.
"We were trying to raise money for Chris Biggs," Sawyer said. "They (Pro Kan Do) eventually came through for Chris Biggs, but it wasn't easy to do. When you're raising money, you talk about what you're raising money for, what projects. At that point, we were trying to do some last-minute stuff for Chris Biggs."
The movement of Tiller's money from one PAC to another was not caught by the media during the campaign, but was revealed to the Journal-World by Kline's staff and other supporters. It was faxed to the newspaper on pages that included the attorney general's letterhead. The Journal-World confirmed the findings by reviewing campaign finance documents.
Kline said the original research was done by a supporter.
Earl Glynn, of Overland Park, earlier this week started e-mailing the information to various groups and writing letters to newspapers.
"I think the public should know about things like this," Glynn said of the $153,000 donation from Tiller. "One individual should not be able to influence politics without someone in the press" bringing it to the public's attention.
Cindy Luxem, who served as a campaign spokeswoman for Biggs during last year's race, said the Biggs campaign wasn't aware of Kansans for Democratic Leadership, nor the group's expenditures advocating for Biggs.
Under the law, groups doing independent expenditures cannot consult with the candidate's campaign.
Currently, the last public disclosure comes eight days before the election. The next report is not filed until about two months after the election.
Williams said there had been several attempts to change state laws to require more timely disclosure of campaign contributions as election days approach, but they have failed.