Isn't it a little early for campaign attack ads? Many Kansans probably were surprised by television ads that have run recently attacking the record of State Treasurer Lynn Jenkins, who has announced her intention to seek the Republican nomination for the 2nd District congressional seat now held by Rep. Nancy Boyda, a Democrat. Jenkins' only announced opponent for the nomination is former Rep. Jim Ryun, whom Boyda defeated last year.
The Republican race was expected to be hotly contested, but it still was a little surprising to see televised ads taking aim at any candidate 14 months ahead of the August 2008 primary. Although Ryun is the obvious beneficiary from such ads, his campaign did not pay for them. Instead, the ad time was purchased by the Club for Growth, an anti-tax political action committee that apparently has plenty of money to spread around.
It's not surprising, therefore, that taxes are the focus of the attack on Jenkins based on votes she cast while a member of the Kansas Legislature. The ad has actors decrying "the Lynn Jenkins gas tax," "the Lynn Jenkins property tax" and "the Lynn Jenkins sales tax." Without any explanation of such matters as the fact that the gasoline tax helped fund the popular state highway program, the Club for Growth concludes, "We can't afford Lynn Jenkins in Washington."
Taxes, of course, are a popular political demon, but the single-minded demonization of any candidate who dares consider a tax increase for any purpose is a trademark of Club for Growth. Ask three Kansas legislators who were targeted by Club for Growth in the 2004 Republican primary.
The group took aim at the legislators because they had worked on a bipartisan effort - which included a tax component - to craft a school finance package that might have headed off the Supreme Court challenge of the state's school finance law. Club for Growth poured tens of thousands of dollars into a postcard campaign in the closing days before the primary, and all three legislators were defeated.
It's interesting that the group uses most of its money to identify and widen splits within the Republican Party, something Kansas Republicans seem to be doing well enough on their own right now. In 2004, the national president of Club for Growth justified the attack on moderate Republicans as a way "to impose some discipline in the Republican Party." He further predicted that in five years, "there will be no pro-tax Republicans left in Kansas."
Only three years have passed, and Jenkins apparently provides evidence that the group's work is not yet done.
Politics is a big money business, but it's unseemly to see such a personal attack being launched before the campaign even gets started. Both Ryun and Jenkins should have an opportunity to make their case without the outside interference of well-heeled special interest groups who spread half-truths on either side of the race. Goodness knows there will be plenty of time for that later on.