An email statement released by the conservative think tank Kansas Policy Institute is causing something of a stir, not because of what it said, but because of who sent it out on their behalf.
The statement praising Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson for his new "vision" statement for public schools came from a public relations firm that KPI has hired, Singularis Group. And it's creating a stir because KPI, which wields significant influence in the Statehouse, receives tax-exempt status as a 501(c)3 organization because it is a supposedly non-partisan think tank, and Singularis Group — whose motto is "We don't do timid" — is anything but nonpartisan.
The group is led by Kris Van Meteren, a former executive director of the Kansas Republican Party who is known for having employed some pretty brazen tactics in the past, such as taking over the name of a centrist organization, the Mainstream Coalition Inc., after that group failed to renew its articles of incorporation, and sending out mailers under its name that Democrats called deceptive.
On its website, under the category of "success stories," the group proudly boasts of its role in flipping control of the Kansas Senate away from moderate Republicans to conservatives in the 2012 GOP primaries.
Through a series of very hard hitting, but very effective mailings, as well as targeted radio ads and newspaper campaigns, The Singularis Group schooled GOP primary voters about the records, political alliances, outrageous statements and infuriating votes made by liberal Republican senators. We knew that if the truth penetrated through to the GOP base, the outcome would be all but certain, and we were not disappointed.
On that same page, Singularis describes Kansas Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley as having been "arguably the most powerful politician in Topeka since he controlled the votes needed by liberal Republicans to maintain control over the upper house."
In a telephone interview, Hensley poked fun at that statement, saying he took it as a compliment. But he said the connection between Singularis and KPI raises serious questions.
"It blows the cover off of (KPI president) Dave Trabert’s claim that his organization is nonpartisan and nonpolitical, it seems to me," Hensley said. "Trabert likes to boast that he doesn’t engage in politics, and he’s a nonpartisan think tank. To my way of thinking, if Singularis has them as their client, then he’s just an extension of the Republican Party."
But KPI vice president James Franko said he didn't see any problem being connected with a Republican PR firm.
"We’ve contracted with Singularis for some PR help," he said in an email. "Not being that familiar with their client list, I’m sure they have some clients with whom we agree on certain issues and others with whom we don’t agree."
In his criticism of U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., on Monday, Dr. Milton Wolf indicated Republicans shouldn't make friends with Democrats and that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's recent controversies have been caused by the media.
Wolf, a tea party-backed challenger to Roberts in the GOP primary, was interrupted several times by applause during his 24-minute talk to about 50 people who attended an event put on by the Douglas County Republican Party at Famous Dave's restaurant.
One of Wolf's major criticisms of Roberts is that Roberts voted in the Senate to confirm President Barack Obama's selection of Kathleen Sebelius in 2009 as secretary of Health and Human Services. Sebelius has been at the forefront of implementing the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, which is opposed by all Republicans in Congress.
"One of the problems with our party is too often we're the go-along to get-along party," said Wolf. "We try to get people in the media to like us, we try to get the Democrats to like us. It never works. Ask Chris Christie about that. He can walk on the beach every day of the week with Barack Obama, but as soon as he starts looking like a candidate for the presidency, the media is going to stab him in the back," Wolf said.
In 2012, Christie, a Republican, praised the response of President Obama and the federal government to Hurricane Sandy, which battered the Northeast. Christie's appearances with Obama just days before the presidential election was criticized by some Republicans as helping Obama.
Recently, Christie has been embroiled in controversy over an allegation that his aides closed lanes to the George Washington Bridge in political retribution against a New Jersey mayor.
Wolf added, "You cannot make friends with our adversaries, and yet what we have — and this should trouble us all to know — is we have Sen. Roberts who voted to put Kathleen Sebelius in charge of Obamacare," he said.
Sebelius was confirmed as secretary on a 65-31 vote. Nine Republicans voted for her, including Roberts and then-U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican who is now governor of Kansas. In recent months, Roberts has called for Sebelius to resign after the troubled roll-out of the ACA's enrollment website.