Republican lawmaker says dispute with Koch lobbyists led to lack of endorsement from Kansas Chamber of Commerce

A Republican state legislator says he didn’t get a re-election endorsement from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce because lobbyists for Koch Industries got mad at him after he suggested the company publicly testify for a bill it was pushing behind the scenes that would have repealed the state’s renewable energy standards.

But Kansas Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Office Mike O’Neal said the allegation made by state Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, is “without merit.” O’Neal, however, didn’t say why Schwab was not endorsed.

The dispute centers over an attempt in 2013 to repeal the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, or RPS, which requires electric utilities to generate 20 percent of capacity from renewable sources, such as wind energy.

Schwab recently sent an email to his supporters to explain why he thought he didn’t get the Kansas Chamber’s endorsement in the Aug. 5 Republican Party primary.

In the email, Schwab said that after a committee hearing on the RPS repeal bill, Koch lobbyist Jonathan Small told Schwab that Koch Industries wanted passage of the bill.

“I recommended that Koch testify then. Jon said if they did that, people would not like them. My response was that people don’t like them anyway, so just be honest,” Schwab said.

Schwab said he made the suggestion because many Kansas businesses had earlier testified before a legislative committee asking that the renewable energy law be left alone. Schwab said he didn’t want to vote for repeal and appear anti-business.

A few weeks later at a reception for the American Legislative Exchange Council, Schwab said he was confronted by two other lobbyists for Koch: Mike Morgan and Mark Nichols, according to the email.

“Mark took his business card, shoved it into my ribs on the left side and said from now on, if I wanted to talk to Jon Small, I needed to call him first for permission. Mike then aggressively let me know how horrible I was for not voting for the RPS bill,” Schwab said. Actually Schwab said he did vote for the bill in committee.

Schwab said, “I informed him it is hard to vote for a bill where Kansas businesses don’t want it passed, and only think tanks do. I needed the Kansas business community to say they really wanted this. He then said that I would vote to keep hookers working in Kansas if it meant no businesses ask for it. To which I said, ‘Are you equating yourself to hookers?’ Needless to say, Mike’s tone spiraled,” Schwab said.

Schwab said the incident is the reason he did not get the Kansas Chamber’s endorsement in his re-election campaign. Schwab has drawn an opponent, J.H. Wilson, in the primary. The chamber has not made an endorsement in the race, but Schwab said chamber officials have been talking to his opponent. Schwab said the chamber has not told him why he didn’t get the endorsement.

Koch Industries, based in Wichita and the second-largest privately held company in the United States, is a member of the Kansas Chamber, and Morgan serves on the chamber’s board.

An emailed statement from the chamber’s leader, O’Neal, said, “Rep. Schwab received a campaign contribution from Chamber PAC as recently as December and he is aware of the reasons he will not receive additional funds in this current cycle. We are sorry and disappointed that he feels he should receive more funds than he has already received. Given the support he received in December, his reference to an admittedly non-Chamber related matter that supposedly occurred last year is without merit.”

Repeated calls to Koch lobbyists Small, Morgan and Nichols, and Schwab were not returned.

Wilson, who is running against Schwab in the Republican Party primary, said he visited with Christie Kriegshauser, vice president of political affairs for the chamber, about getting the group’s endorsement in the race. But, he said, Kriegshauser later informed him that the chamber’s PAC wouldn’t make an endorsement in the race.

Wilson said he understood that the chamber might not want to back a longshot candidate. “Schwab would be the betting favorite. Hopefully, I can change that,” he said.

Wilson says that the RPS should be abolished.

“That needs to be left up to the private sector,” he said. Another attempt to repeal the RPS failed during the 2014 legislative session. Schwab voted against repeal.

The Kansas Chamber, Americans For Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council say the renewable energy standard interferes with the free market and gives wind energy an unfair advantage. AFP, an anti-tax small government group founded by Koch Industries’ leaders, David and Charles Koch, blanketed the state with TV ads linking the renewable energy standards to former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and President Barack Obama. Supporters of the renewable standards say the standards have boosted the state economy through the development of wind energy.