Kansas University officials said Wednesday that they have not been contacted by the FBI as part of a reported probe into pay-to-play allegations involving Gov. Sam Brownback's administration.
“There has been no contact with the university by anybody involved with the investigation,” said Tim Caboni, KU's vice chancellor for public affairs. “The FBI has not contacted KU.”
Caboni was responding to a story by the New York Times that reported that as part of a broader investigation, the FBI is looking at why KU reassigned its longtime Statehouse lobbyist Kathy Damron and hired Riley Scott.
Scott is a former congressional aide to both Brownback and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran. He is also a son-in-law of Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.
At the time, KU and other regents universities were battling efforts in the Kansas Legislature to make significant budget cuts to higher education.
Caboni said it was the university's own decision to reassign Damron and to contract with Scott, and that decision was not the result of pressure by the Brownback administration to hire one of his former aides.
Caboni said that after the 2012 elections, there was a large turnover in the Legislature, and Scott was known to have good relationships with many of the new freshman lawmakers.
“We were not directed to hire Riley Scott,” Caboni said. “Lobbying is all about relationships.”
The Journal-World reported on the change in May 2013, but Caboni said the decision to change lobbying strategy was actually made months earlier, near the start of the 2013 legislative session. He said KU signed its contract with Scott on Feb. 28, and that Scott signed the next day, March 1.
The contract was terminated on Aug. 30, 2013, according to records on the Kansas Secretary of State's website.
During the 2014 session, KU did not contract with an outside lobbyist but instead used its newly hired director of state relations, Lindsey Douglas, to communicate with lawmakers. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Caboni also appeared personally before legislative committees.
Damron continues to work as a consultant for KU. In regard to the Times' story, she said, "I was not contacted by the New York Times." Asked by the Journal-World if there was anything improper about the hiring of Scott and her reassignment, she said, "I don't have any information that that is the case."
On Tuesday Brownback told the Associated Press that he will talk with the FBI if he is contacted about the a reported investigation. He said that he has also directed state employees to cooperate fully if they are contacted by the FBI.
On Monday, Brownback characterized the reports of the FBI investigation as a smear campaign in an interview with the Wichita Eagle.
The FBI has a longstanding policy not to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. But according to one person who spoke with the Journal-World, as well as other published reports, the ongoing probe focuses on at least three issues.
Among those is whether the Brownback administration pressured interest groups to hire certain lobbyists, and whether the administration pressured lobbyists and their clients to contribute money to certain legislative campaigns as conditions for giving their issues favorable consideration, a practice sometimes referred to as “pay-to-play.”
If so, that could be a violation of a federal anti-racketeering law known as the Hobbs Act.
Another focus of the probe, according to a person who spoke to the Journal-World on the condition that they not be named, reportedly focuses on the relationship between administration officials and the three companies that received contracts to administer the state's privatized Medicaid system known as KanCare.
All three companies subsequently hired lobbyists who had close ties to Brownback.
One of those contractors, United Health Services, Inc., hired Scott as a lobbyist.
The other contractors are Amerigroup Kansas, which hired Gary Haulmark, a former deputy secretary of what is now the Department for Children and Families; and Sunflower State Health Plans, which hired Matt Hickam as its lobbyist. Hickam had previously been a partner in a lobbying firm with Brownback's former chief of staff, David Kensinger.