Seven groups spent nearly $167,000 over seven days to boost Democratic candidates heading into the final days of campaigns for the Kansas Legislature, but the state's largest business group also was active in helping conservative Republicans aligned with Gov. Sam Brownback.
Finance reports filed through Friday showed political party groups and political action committees pouring money into mailings, phone banks and get-out-the-vote efforts. The powerful Kansas Chamber of Commerce's PAC, backing GOP conservatives, spent more than $96,000 in the last three days of October.
Top Democrats accused Brownback's administration of trying to help its favored candidates through brochures mailed by the state Department of Revenue to 146,000 business owners about coming income tax cuts. House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, called on Brownback to use his campaign funds to reimburse the department for the $52,000 it spent on printing and postage, but Brownback's office ignored the jibe and said the brochures were educational.
The late-spending by party groups and PACs underscored that legislative races are the hottest contests on the ballot in Kansas this year as Brownback's allies try to ensure that his fellow conservatives gain control of both legislative chambers. Republicans go into Tuesday's election with majorities of 32-8 in the Senate and 92-33 in the House, but GOP moderates have controlled the Senate and worked with Democrats to stall Brownback initiatives.
Democrats have said spending by their candidates and sympathetic groups is necessary to overcome efforts from the chamber, the tea party movement and other anti-tax, small-government groups.
"We knew that they were going to flood money in there," said Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon.
The chamber has been a strong advocate for the tax reductions Brownback signed into law earlier this year, which will exempt the owners of 191,000 partnerships, sole proprietorships and other businesses from state income taxes.
A report the PAC filed this week with the Kansas secretary of state's office showed that it spent nearly $52,000 this week on radio ads for two GOP conservatives seeking state Senate seats, Steve Fitzgerald of Leavenworth and Bob Reader of Manhattan. Fitzgerald is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Kelly Kultala of Kansas City, while Reader is running for an open seat after ousting moderate GOP Sen. Roger Reitz of Manhattan in the primary.
The chamber PAC also spent $44,000 on Wednesday on mailings for six Senate candidates, including Fitzgerald and Reader, and 26 House candidates.
But Democrats had resources, too. One PAC, the Bluestem Fund, spent nearly $72,000 during the weeklong period ending Thursday on mailings, phone banks and other get-out-the-vote initiatives. Another PAC, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, spent $31,000 on get-out-the-vote activities, and the Kansas Democratic Party helped candidates with $28,000 worth of mailers.
Three other groups tied to the Democratic Party and the PAC operated by the Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, also joined the effort to help seven state Senate candidates, 10 state House candidates and even one candidate for the Jackson County Commission.
Jeff Glendening, the Kansas Chamber's vice president for political affairs, said its PAC has been active to counter the potential clout of Democratic-leaning groups.
"Job creators should be able to enjoy the same freedom-of-speech rights," he said.
Democrats have attempted to make legislative races a referendum on the income tax cuts, portraying them as reckless. Brownback and his allies believe they'll boost the economy. Legislative researchers have estimated that the cuts will be worth $4.5 billion over the next six years but also project collective budget shortfalls approaching $2.5 billion.
Davis argued during a Statehouse news conference Friday that Brownback's administration is trying to undercut Democrats' arguments by mailing the blue, white and gold pieces on slick paper only days before the election. The Department of Revenue began mailing them Wednesday.
The department said it wanted to give business owners as much time as possible to consult with their accountants and tax advisers before the cuts take in January. The brochure lists questions about the tax cuts and answers them.
"For income tax cuts to work businesses particularly have to reinvest the money in their companies and employees. How can they do this if they don't know about the changes?" Brownback said in an email statement. "The mailing, which answers questions about the new tax law, is a reasonable expense for the Department of Revenue. "
But the brochure also quotes a complimentary Wall Street Journal editorial and the cuts will "provide a jolt of adrenaline" to the state's economy.
"Someone could easily mistake this for a political mailing," Davis said, holding up a brochure for a Democratic legislative candidate to emphasize his point.