The good news for Kansas voters in the upcoming primaries is that, in most cases, they have a clear choice. In Republican primaries, that choice is between a candidate who represents the new conservative wing of the party or one who represents the more moderate, traditional Republican philosophy.
Candidates are making no secret of which side they are on, and required campaign finance reports released earlier this week make the lines clear.
Most attention in the upcoming primary is focused on about a dozen Republican races in which incumbent state senators, identified by themselves and others as part of the moderate wing, face challenges from candidates identified as conservatives. In several cases, the primary will settle the election because the winner of the Republican primary will be unopposed in the general election.
The political action committee associated with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce has specifically targeted state senators, including several in leadership positions, whom they consider to be too moderate. Its express goal is to disrupt the coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats in the Kansas Senate and create a more conservative Republican majority in that body. Gov. Sam Brownback has endorsed a number of Republicans in those races, citing “the alliance in the state Senate between Democrats and some Republicans that join together to promote a Democrat agenda.”
Primary races have involved an unusual amount of money this year. Finance reports indicate the Kansas Chamber received a $125,000 donation from Wichita-based Koch Industries and has spent $280,000 on GOP campaigns, including more than $231,000 last month on mailings and advertising supporting conservative Senate candidates. The new Prairie Fire PAC formed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach also has raised nearly $20,000 and contributed about $11,000 to fellow conservatives including several state Senate candidates.
Money also is flowing to moderate candidates. A group called the Kansas Jobs PAC reported raising $181,000, including $100,000 from the Senate Republican Leadership Committee led by Senate President Steve Morris, who is one of the senators targeted for removal. The company operating a state-owned casino near Wichita donated $50,000 to Morris’ group, and the Kansas National Education Association chipped in $50,000 to the Kansas Jobs PAC. Complete campaign finance reports are available through the Kansas Government Ethics Commission.
Although they are providing useful information to voters this year, the Kansas campaign finance laws continue to include major loopholes that place no reporting requirements on tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations like Americans for Prosperity or any group financing “issue” ads that don’t directly endorse candidates.
Voters can make what they want of the campaign finance information released this week, but the alliances in most state Senate races are clear, as are the principles at stake in this election. For better or worse, this may be one of the most politically transparent elections Kansas voters have experienced in a generation. Hopefully, the potential impact of this election on the state’s future will inspire a large voter turnout for Tuesday’s primary.