Report: Paul Davis was at rural Kansas strip club raided by police in 1998

? A small southeast Kansas newspaper published a story Saturday that was immediately picked up by a national news website reporting that Democrat Paul Davis was present at a strip club with a topless waitress in 1998 while undercover police were conducting a drug investigation.

The Kansas Republican Party immediately circulated those stories via email to other news outlets, saying, “News of this behavior casts serious questions on Davis’ judgment and fitness for public office.”

The Lawrence Democrat quickly fired back, accusing opponent Gov. Sam Brownback’s campaign of engaging in a “smear campaign” and using the Coffeyville story to distract from an FBI investigation into alleged influence-peddling within Brownback’s own administration.

“I’m not at all surprised Sam Brownback and his allies are digging up all they can to distract Kansans from the fact they remain down in the polls — despite spending millions of dollars — and also under active investigation by the FBI,” Davis said in an email Saturday afternoon.

The strip club story first appeared in the Saturday edition of the Coffeyville Journal, a twice-weekly newspaper that does not have a website. Nevertheless, within hours of its publication in Coffeyville, it was picked up by national website The Politico story included a response from Davis saying he was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Within the next 40 minutes, the Kansas Republican Party sent out emails to other news outlets touting the story.

According to the Politico report, which cited the Coffeyville Journal, Davis was seen and identified by undercover police officers at a strip club in Coffeyville called “Secrets,” also known as Club 169, on Aug. 5, 1998.

Davis was 26 at the time, unmarried, and had just begun his law practice a few months earlier.

A few minutes after midnight on Aug. 5, police executed a search warrant after an informant said he had purchased drugs from the club owner, according to the story.

Quoting police reports, Politico reported that one officer noticed a white male sitting in the “V.I.P room” with a white female standing over him, wearing only a G-string. The officer told them to get on the floor, on their stomachs, and keep their hands where the officer could see them.

The officer then reported that the male identified himself as a Lawrence attorney who represented the owner of the club, according to Politico.

In a statement to Politico, which was then resent to Kansas news outlets, Davis did not deny that he was the white male in question. But he did deny that he did anything illegal.

“When I was 26 years old, I was taken to a club by my boss — the club owner was one of our legal clients,” Davis said. “While we were in the building, the police showed up. I was never accused of having done anything wrong, but rather I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

At the same time, Davis’ campaign team emailed a “background” statement alleging that the story was part of a smear campaign. The email referenced stories from Brownback’s 1996 U.S. Senate campaign against Democrat Jill Docking, who is now Davis’ running mate.

The email cited stories by the National Jewish Democratic Council, which reported that Brownback supporters had used “anti-Semitic tactics” against Docking by phoning Republican voters to remind voters that Docking is Jewish. The story quoted two Republican voters who had received such calls.

The Davis campaign also recirculated recent stories about an ongoing FBI investigation into alleged influence peddling by staff in Gov. Brownback’s office regarding contracts to private insurance companies that were hired to manage KanCare, a program Brownback initiated to privatize the state’s Medicaid system.

Brownback has declined to comment on that investigation.

Independence Police Chief Harry Smith corroborated Davis’ account of the 1998 incident in a statement Saturday evening.

“(Davis) was there, and as he said that night, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Smith said. “At the time of my encounter with (Davis), he was totally cooperative and was not involved in any wrongdoing. Paul was not and never to my knowledge the focus of that or any other investigation. … He was simply questioned briefly and released.”