Kansas Senate leader Wagle sought billionaire’s help after voting for bill benefiting him
photo by: Associated Press
TOPEKA — A top Republican lawmaker in Kansas now running for the U.S. Senate sought an ambassadorship in 2018, calling it “an excellent time” to leave state politics and enlisting help from a billionaire casino mogul who is a close friend of President Donald Trump.
The Wichita Eagle reported that Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, of Wichita, listed businessman Phil Ruffin as a reference on a resume for the White House only 10 days after voting for a bill that would have benefited Ruffin’s business interests in Kansas. She expressed her interest in serving in a diplomatic post, potentially as an ambassador to Ireland, in a May 2018 email to a political operative asking that a cover letter and resume be forwarded to the White House.
Wagle campaign spokesman Matt Beynon said that like many Republicans, Wagle “was excited about the opportunity to serve in President Trump’s administration.”
“And while this opportunity never materialized, it was a good example of when one door closes another door opens to serve — now running for the United States Senate,” Beynon said in an email.
Ruffin owns long-closed dog and horse tracks in Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, and the 2018 legislation would have eased the way for racetrack casinos in Kansas. In voting for the bill, Wagle went against years of opposition to expanding legalized gambling in Kansas.
Wagle’s cover letter said she was “inspired by the work the president has done” as a reason for asking to be considered for an ambassadorship.
“I am willing to discuss any opening, but I am particularly interested in Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Ambassador to Belize, Ireland, Belgium or any United Nations Ambassador post,” she wrote.
In her email to the political operative, she wrote, “Even though I have two and a half years left in my Senate Presidency, I’m thinking(it’s)an excellent time to transition out of Kansas politics as we elect a new Governor.”
Democrat Laura Kelly was elected governor in 2018.
Wagle was never nominated for Trump administration position, and it’s unclear whether the White House seriously considered her.
“I think she wanted to be an ambassador, but I never took any action,” Ruffin said.
Ruffin grew up in Wichita, has long-standing ties to Trump, who was best man at Ruffin’s 2008 wedding. They co-own Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, where the president stayed this week when he visited Nevada for a campaign rally. Ruffin was also an early mega-donor to Make American Great Again PAC, which formed in 2015 to support Trump.
He has pushing Kansas lawmakers to allow new forms of gambling at racetracks for years and in 2014, Wagle criticized his efforts. But Beynon said in an email that Wagle’s vote in favor of the 2018 gambling bill came after she met with Ruffin and other Wichita business leaders and learned of “uneven tax treatment” for racetracks.
Ruffin gave $1,000 to Wagle’s state Senate campaign in October 2017, about six months before she cast her pro-gambling vote. Since that vote, he has donated an additional $1,000 to Wagle’s state Senate campaign and contributed $5,600, the maximum donation under federal law, to Wagle’s U.S. Senate campaign.
Ruffin dismissed the idea that Wagle’s change in position on expanded gaming led to his support, saying “we lost anyway” and that “her vote didn’t matter one way or the other.”