Money flows into contests for Kansas Legislature
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democrats in key Kansas Senate races outspent their Republican opponents over the past three months as embattled incumbents and their allies tried to offset the influence of the state's largest business group in a GOP-leaning state, according to campaign finance records.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce's political action committee filed a report this week with the secretary of state's office showing it has committed to spending at least $312,000 this fall in attempting to help conservative Republicans gain a firm hold on the Legislature.
The Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, reported spending almost $266,000 since the state's August primary, mostly to help Democrats, and the group still had more than $418,000 to spend in the final 10 days before Tuesday's election.
The most closely watched races were for state Senate seats from northeast Kansas, and in five key contests, the Democratic candidates spent at least slightly more money than their Republican opponents from July 27 through Oct. 25, the period covered by the latest campaign finance reports.
The widest gap was between Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and GOP challenger Casey Moore, both from Topeka and running in the 19th District. Hensley reported spending nearly $113,000 on his re-election campaign over the past three months — nine times as much as Moore's spending of about $12,000.
In the neighboring 18th District, Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the Senate budget committee, outspent Republican challenger Dick Barta by a 3-to-1 margin. She raised nearly $125,000 in contributions during the period and had more than $252,000 available, spending almost $195,000.
"I knew it was going to be a battle royal," Kelly said Tuesday. "I went about raising the money I needed to get my message out."
Barta, who raised and spent about $62,000 during the same period, expressed no concern about Kelly's fundraising advantage. Republicans consider him a strong candidate because he is a former Shawnee County sheriff.
"I stand on my record of serving this community," Barta said in an email. "The voters know the true fiscal conservative."
Republicans go into next week's election with majorities of 32-8 in the Senate and 92-33 in the House. But GOP moderates had controlled the Senate until the August primary, allowing them and Democrats to stall some of conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's initiatives.
Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City, the Democrats' unsuccessful nominee for governor in 2010 against Brownback, spent more than $100,000 on his re-election over the past three months and still had enough money to repay a personal loan of $52,000 to his campaign. His conservative GOP opponent is state Rep. Anthony Brown of Eudora, who spent about $61,000.
Another closely watched race is in the 5th District in the Kansas City area. Democratic incumbent Kelly Kultala of Kansas City reported spending more than $56,000 over the past three months. Republican Steve Fitzgerald spent about $51,000.
In the neighboring 6th District, Democrats hope to oust Republican Sen. Chris Steineger of Kansas City, who switched parties after losing the Democratic primary for secretary of state in 2010. Steineger's spending of $35,000 was topped by Democratic challenger Pat Pettey's $39,000.
Democrats contend their candidates must counter advantages conferred on conservative Republicans by the Kansas Chamber's backing. Its PAC raised more than $590,000 from July 27 through Oct. 25, though some of that money went into successful efforts to oust moderate Republican senators in the August primaries.
The chamber loaned $170,000 to its PAC in late August, and a construction company operated by PAC chairman Ivan Crossland loaned it almost $123,000 earlier this month, on top of $80,000 in contributions from Crossland companies.
The chairman of the chamber's board, Wichita oilman Dave Murfin, contributed $80,000 to the PAC. Koch Industries Inc., the Wichita-based company headed by prominent conservative donor Charles Koch, gave $50,000.
"Our members are very serious about making changes in Topeka and are willing to invest in the project," said Jeff Glendening, the chamber's vice president of political affairs.
But Democratic incumbents also have allies, with the KNEA shaping up as the most significant.
The teachers' union PAC had more than $698,000 in cash at its disposal from July 27 through Oct. 25, and it contributed to dozens of legislative candidates, most of them Democrats. It also gave $65,000 to other organizations helping Democrats, spent nearly $47,000 on mailings for Democratic state Senate candidates and expended more than $60,000 on polling.
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