Topeka — Now that both sides in the conservative-moderate war in the Kansas Republican Party have shown their cards, it remains for voters to decide who has the winning hand.
Republican and Democratic voters go to the polls Tuesday for both party primaries, but the major attraction will be GOP races across the state.
At stake is control of the state Senate.
Currently, a moderate coalition in the Senate has been able to fend off some conservative thrusts from Gov. Sam Brownback and the House. But Brownback, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, and Americans for Prosperity have waged a full-throated battle to take over the Senate.
Campaign finance reports that trickled in late Monday show a wave of corporate money supporting conservatives, while teachers and unions backed moderates.
For the campaign finance reporting period that ended last Thursday, the political action committee of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce spent more than $280,000 in Republican races, much of that on mailers and broadcast advertising for conservatives trying to knock off moderates. On July 19, Wichita-based Koch Industries, run by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, contributed $125,000 to the Chamber PAC, the PAC report shows.
Meanwhile, moderate Republicans received significant funding from what is called the Kansas Jobs PAC, which raised $181,000 and spent $156,035.
Of the money raised, $100,000 came from the Senate Republican Leadership Committee, which is led by Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton. The company operating the Wichita-area casino contributed $50,000 to the Senate Republican Leadership PAC. The Kansas Jobs PAC also received $50,000 from the Kansas National Education Association PAC; and another $30,000 came from union PACs, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Carpenters District Council.
The Kansas Jobs PAC is helping moderate Senate incumbents who are being challenged by conservatives, and moderate challengers to conservative incumbents.
In state Senate campaigns, Kansas law limits contributions to $1,000 a candidate.
But both the Kansas Chamber PACs and Kansas Jobs PAC are getting around that limitation by paying political consulting groups to produce campaign material independent of the candidates.
In addition, the campaign finance reports don’t show how much is being spent by issue advocacy groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, which was founded by the Koch brothers. AFP doesn’t have to reveal how much it spends nor where it receives funding because it is a tax-exempt “social welfare” organization. AFP has been active in the state Senate campaigns, producing mailers critical of moderate Republican incumbents.
But state Sen. Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, who is considered a conservative Republican, said the Kansas Jobs PAC report shows that Senate Republican leaders “have an open alliance with the most liberal unions in Kansas to attack conservatives and implement the Obama agenda.”
He added: "Kansas voters know what the Teamsters and big special interest government unions stand for - job killing taxes and total implementation of ObamaCare. Now we know this Senate leadership stands with those unions and against the best interests of Kansas."
But Joshua Lewis, chief of staff for Senate President Morris, said, "Senator Bruce should check the facts: every Republican voted in favor of protecting Kansans from Obamacare. The state is facing a $2.7 billion deficit, our schools could face cuts of up to 40 percent of their current budgets, and some so-called conservatives are now talking about raising the sales tax to pay for the budget deficit.
"Leadership does not control the Kansas Jobs PAC. What Senator Bruce forgets is that in a Republican state like Kansas, many teachers are likely Republican and union members. Our teachers have the most important job of educating our future generations - is Senator Bruce saying that their voices are unworthy of being heard in the political process?"
On the conservative side, Koch Industries’ $125,000 contribution to the Chamber PAC is large by Kansas standards.
In addition to Koch Industries’ donation to the Kansas Chamber PAC, the organization received high-dollar contributions from several businesses, including $10,000 from The Lawrence Paper Co.
For the moderates, the Kansas National Education Association’s $50,000 contribution to Kansas Jobs PAC was made up almost entirely of smaller donations in the $25 to $100 range.