Topeka — Prominent Kansas Democrats rallied Friday behind their presumed nominee for governor despite his recent settling of a lawsuit that led a top aide for the leading Republican hopeful to label him "a fraud."
An adviser to Democratic candidate Tom Wiggans said the former pharmaceutical company executive would stay in the race. In an e-mail to supporters, Wiggans described U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback's campaign as a "smear machine."
Brownback is the presumed Republican nominee and his campaign has attacked Wiggans over a federal lawsuit filed by shareholders in Connetics Corp., a Palo Alto, Calif., firm Wiggans once led. In October, a judge approved a settlement in which Wiggans, the company and others agreed to pay nearly $12.8 million, plus interest.
Documents filed in federal court in San Francisco said the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing. The defendants denied the allegations, and Kansas Democrats suggested Friday that such lawsuits are not unusual for businesses.
"Tom is 100 percent committed to the governor's race. No reconsideration," Wiggans adviser Amy Jordan Wooden said in an e-mail.
Wiggans is the only Democrat actively campaigning for the party's nomination in the August 2010 primary. Brownback faces only token opposition in the Republican primary.
News reports about the lawsuit were first posted online Thursday, and Brownback's campaign manager, David Kensinger, discussed it with reporters Friday. Connetics and executives, including Wiggans, were accused of misleading investors and making false statements in public and in federal regulatory filings.
"Tom Wiggans is a fraud," Kensinger said. "His candidacy is a fraud. The Democratic Party is attempting to perpetrate a fraud on the people of Kansas."
Asked whether Brownback would cite the lawsuit in television ads, Kensinger said, "Count on it."
But Wooden said Brownback's record on ethics is suspect. Among other things, she noted that in 2002, Brownback's campaign was required to pay the federal government $19,000 for over-the-limit campaign contributions.
"Sam Brownback's campaign calling someone else a 'fraud' is like Britney Spears criticizing someone's parenting skills," she said.
Kensinger replied: "When you're caught defrauding retired teachers and others out of 13 million bucks, I guess the best you can do is try and change the subject."
Prominent Democrats said they don't expect the lawsuit to stick as an issue.
"There's plenty of people in politics who've been involved in businesses that have had lawsuits," said Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. "I expect that this will be a bump in the road and he'll be just fine."
The lawsuit, filed in 2006, alleged Connetics, Wiggans and other executives hid problems with an acne-fighting gel the firm was developing as a major product.
Wiggans was president from July 1995 to February 2005 and later served as chairman of the board of directors. The lawsuit alleged the firm had "a culture of deceit" with leaders who "engaged in massive financial fraud."
Kansas Democratic Party Chairman Larry Gates said the lawsuit was only a "raw allegation" and the GOP attacks, "cheap shots." Gates, an attorney, said he knew about it before Wiggans announced his candidacy last month and didn't see it as a problem.