Topeka Two years ago, lobbyist Doug Mays had a front row seat to the bidding process for contracts under KanCare, which was Gov. Sam Brownback's overhaul of the $3 billion Medicaid program.
Mays, a former legislator, House speaker and state securities commissioner, was lobbying for Coventry Health Care, one of the private health insurance companies that had bid on the contract.
When awards were announced in June 2012, Coventry wasn't selected.
Even so, Mays, a Republican from Topeka, said on Thursday that the bidding process was fair.
"We didn't feel like there was any unfair advantage based on who was working for who," Mays said.
Mays said he has seen contract bidding from both sides — as a House speaker and lobbyist — and felt like the bidding for KanCare contracts followed the rules. "I saw nothing that made me suspicious," he said.
According to reports from several news organizations and a person who spoke to the Journal-World on the condition that they not be named, the FBI is looking into allegations of influence-peddling in the establishment of KanCare.
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.
KanCare lobbyists have ties to Brownback
The three companies selected by the Brownback administration to provide healthcare under KanCare were Amerigroup Kansas, United Health Services, and Centene Corp., which does business in Kansas under the name Sunflower State Health Plan.
The lobbyists for those companies all have ties to Brownback.
Gary Haulmark was a deputy secretary in the state welfare agency in the Brownback administration and then went to lobby for Amerigroup in November 2012. He still lobbies for the company.
Riley Scott, a former staff member for Brownback, became the lobbyist for UnitedHealth Services this year. Scott also is a partner with former Brownback chief of staff and longtime Brownback confidante David Kensinger in the Topeka lobbying firm Parallel Strategies.
Matthew Hickam lobbies for Centene. Hickam was a former partner of Kensinger at another lobbying firm.
According to records on file with the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, other lobbyists for Centene over the past several years have included Ashley McMillan, a former Kansas Republican Party executive director who headed Kansans for No Income Tax, a group that pushed for lowering income tax rates in Kansas; Heath Kohl, currently political director for the Kansas GOP; and Rebecca Mank, who was also an officer in the Kansans for No Income Tax group.
Before Scott signed up with United Health Services, the company's lobbying team was Gaches Braden & Associates, according to ethics commission records. The firm represents numerous clients before the Legislature.
Lobbyists' opinions differ on administration
Ron Gaches, who leads that lobbying firm, said he has not been contacted by the FBI or any law enforcement agency.
Gaches said he hasn't experienced anything inappropriate related to lobbying since the election of Brownback in 2010.
"Notwithstanding other accounts, I don't see a whole lot going on different than the change of any other administration. There are always certain lobbyists who have closer relations with an administration," he said.
Gaches said the election of Brownback and more conservative Republicans in the Legislature has changed the balance of political power.
"We have moved to the right in Kansas politics, and that is where the majority of voters seem to be.
"And there was a lot of pent-up demand by conservative interest groups and legislators to go work their agenda that had been tamped down for a while. So, my own perspective is some of the pushback on the tactics and politics are coming from the folks who are on the short side now of the political math," he said.
Another lobbyist who would speak only on the condition of anonymity said that most Kansas lobbyists have been contacted by the FBI over the past 18 months.
The lobbyist said the FBI wanted to know if the lobbying and influence culture at the Statehouse had changed under the Brownback administration.
The lobbyist said the culture had indeed changed, but that they did not think anything illegal was going on. When the FBI asked if there was "pay to play," the lobbyist said: "I could not give them any examples."
Questions raised about fundraiser
Earlier this week, an article that appeared in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle said part of the FBI probe centers on a Sept. 24, 2012, fundraiser headed by Brownback on behalf of 14 Republicans who had won their Senate GOP primaries.
Almost all of those Republicans had defeated incumbent Republicans in the August primary in which Brownback helped conservatives defeat moderates.
The fundraiser sought funds from lobbyists. To be listed as a "sponsor" required a $1,000 donation for each candidate.
Gaches said his lobbying group was one of those asked to donate funds, but Gaches said he didn't feel strong-armed to donate.
One lobbyist who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they felt the fund-raiser was somewhat unseemly because they had received a call about it from the governor's office instead of a campaign official.
Another lobbyist said that while the fundraiser itself wasn't unusual, what raised eyebrows about the event was the amount of money requested. A lobbyist could spend $14,000 at the event, which is a lot by Kansas political standards, the lobbyist said.