Political heavyweights are opening their wallets in an expensive battle that will possibly decide the direction of Kansas and the fate of Gov. Sam Brownback's agenda.
Fueled heavily by Koch Industries, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce's political action committee has spent more than a quarter of a million dollars trying to defeat moderate Republicans in next Tuesday's primary, including many in Johnson County.
Better than half the contributions raised by the Kansas Chamber this year, $125,000, came from Koch Industries, the Wichita-based company run by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch.
Meanwhile, a political action committee controlled by moderate Republican Senate President Steve Morris has joined in an unlikely pairing with organized labor to raise almost $200,000 for another PAC that's working to defeat conservative Republican candidates, including some incumbents.
"This is the war machine spooling up," said Chapman Rackaway, a Fort Hays State University political science professor. "The tanks are being deployed and the bombs are being dropped, and boy, are they ever."
Yet while much attention has been focused on the Kochs, the moderate Republican coalition came under scrutiny when new campaign finance reports revealed that Morris' PAC, along with several labor unions, had helped fund a political action committee trying to beat conservatives.
Conservatives quickly pounced on the revelation, arguing it proved a vote for a moderate Republican really is a vote for a Democrat.
"The secret is out and voters deserve to know the truth," conservative Sen. Terry Bruce of Hutchinson said. "The liberal leadership of the Kansas Senate has an open alliance with the most liberal unions in Kansas to attack conservatives and implement the Obama agenda."
Attempts to reach Morris for comment were unsuccessful Tuseday.
The Senate Republican Leadership Committee headed by Morris put $100,000 into the Kansas Jobs PAC along with other contributions by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Kansas National Education Association and the carpenters' union from St. Louis. The education association put $50,000 into the PAC, while the Teamsters contributed $15,000. The carpenter's union added $15,000.
The Jobs PAC spent $156,035, with money going to moderate Senate Republicans such as Joe Beveridge of Lenexa, Tim Owens">Tim Owens of Overland Park, Roger Reitz of Manhattan, Jean Schodorf of Wichita and Tom Wertz of Lake Quivira. Each is facing a conservative challenger in Tuesday's primary.
Records show some of that money, $40,000, flowed to a group called the Kansas Values Political Action Committee, which spent $3,000 supporting moderate candidates in Johnson County.
Bill Moore, president of Teamsters Local 696, said his group is aligned with moderate Republicans on issues of pensions, education and taxes.
"You've got to have a strong community and support education," Moore said. "If you look at the votes that came from the conservatives. If you look at the votes that came from the moderates. Which ones voted for Kansas communities?"
Conservative Senate candidate Greg Smith said the latest financial disclosure suggested that Democrats are cloaking themselves as Republicans.
"If they want to be Democrats, be Democrats," he said. "Show your colors and come out and play."
Smith's opponent, Joe Beveridge, received a $1,000 contribution from both the Jobs PAC and the Kansas Values PAC.
Beveridge said that is just a fraction of what he has raised during the campaign. He said he has made no secret of the fact that he's supported by the state education association and said that doesn't undercut his campaign themes stressing the economy, schools and transportation.
"I have support from teachers all over the district," he said.
Amanda Adkins, chairwoman of the Kansas Republican Party, noted the flap in a message she sent Tuesday to Republicans statewide.
"It has come to my attention that one organization active in the primary has labeled itself a 'Jobs' PAC but it is merely a shell for other entities that are not supportive of our philosophy or our plan for pro-growth change," she wrote.
But Rackaway said the structure Morris is using to give money to moderate Republican candidates is comparable to what the Kansas Chamber and Americans for Prosperity do for Brownback's candidates.Records show that the political arm of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce spent $281,599 aiding conservative Republican candidates engaged in primaries across Kansas.
Besides money from the Kochs, the chamber received contributions from KCP&L, Kansas Gas Service, Boeing and Lawrence Paper Co. Also, retiring state Rep. Owen Donohoe of Shawnee and his company gave the chamber about $9,000.
About $60,000 from the chamber has flowed into legislative races in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, mostly to help conservative Republicans running for the Senate, which has been accused of blocking Brownback's agenda.
The Kansas Chamber, which advocates for tax cuts and less government, spent about $55,000 helping conservative Johnson County Senate candidates David Harvey, Jim Denning, Jeff Melcher, Greg Smith and incumbent Sen. Pat Apple.
Four of those candidates are in GOP primaries against moderate Senate hopefuls. Harvey is running against state Rep. Kay Wolf, Denning against incumbent Sen. Tim Owens, Smith against Beveridge, and Melcher is facing state Rep. Pat Colloton.
Apple is opposed by another conservative, Charlotte O'Hara.
Owens dismissed the chamber's support for his challenger, saying he had a better voting record in support of business with the local chamber of commerce.
"Frankly, I think they're owned by Koch Industries and by Americans for Prosperity," Owens said. "I have no confidence in the Kansas Chamber because of where they are."
Records showed about $28,000 was paid to Victory Enterprises of Davenport, Iowa, for radio and cable production to help Harvey, Denning, Smith and Melcher. The chamber spent a total of $130,000 with Victory Enterprises for helping conservative candidates across Kansas.
Another $27,400 was spent on printing and postage with Singularis Group of Johnson County to help the same four, plus Apple. Overall, the chamber spent about $100,000 with Singularis on work statewide, records showed.