Sam Brownback Headlines GOP Fundraiser Packed With Lobbyists

Flanked by Senate President Steven Morris, right, R-Hugoton, and House Speaker Michael O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, Kansas Gov. Sam
Flanked by Senate President Steven Morris, right, R-Hugoton, and House Speaker Michael O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback addresses the legislature during the annual State of the State address at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's (R) decision to headline a lobbyist-packed Republican Party fundraiser Monday evening is drawing criticism from state Democrats who accused him of selling access to special interest groups.

Several lobbyists co-hosted the event to raise money for 14 conservative Republican state Senate candidate, part of Brownback's effort to turn the moderate-Republican controlled Senate into a conservative bastion. The Lawrence Journal-World reported that a series of high-profile lobbyists, including several with close ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council, also attended.

The move comes as the Kansas GOP civil war penetrates the general election, and conservatives work to turn the state into what one moderate Republican called an "ultraconservative utopia."

The Topeka Capitol-Journal reported that state Democrats have condemned the fundraiser as a "pay-to-play" event, claiming that Brownback was selling access to lobbyists for the 2013 legislative session. Republicans deny the charge.

From the Capitol-Journal:

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Kansas lobbyists were being advised by representatives of the Brownback administration against donating in the 2012 general election to moderate Republicans or Democrats.

To defy the governor on this point places lobbyists at risk of backlash in the 2013 session of the Legislature, Hensley said.

"I heard directly from lobbyists," Hensley said. "There was a threat, basically, that you want your particular program to pass, back off giving to the opposition."

Brownback's spokeswoman, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, told the Capitol-Journal that the event was to "advocate for the Kansas way instead of the Obama way."

The Journal-World reported that co-sponsors of the event included the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas Dental Associations, along with political action committees associated with Brownback and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran. Among the lobbyists involved were Ron and Julie Hein, Republicans who run a Topeka firm whose clients include R.J. Reynolds. Both Heins have co-chaired Kansas' chapter of American Legislative Exchange Council. Other co-hosts include lobbyists Brad Smoot, who has represented the American Insurance Association, the Woodlands Racetrack and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas; and Whitney Damron, who currently represents the Girl Scouts Councils of Kansas, the Kansas Bar Association and a variety of alcohol interests. Two firms with ties to David Kensinger, Brownback's former chief of staff and current PAC chairman, were on the list as well.

Conservatives in the Kansas Republican Party -- who currently control the governorship and the state House of Representatives -- have been trying to oust the moderate Republicans controlling the Senate in a yearlong civil war. The war has dominated Kansas politics and led to gridlock on several legislative issues.

Several moderate Republicans lost in the August primary, such as Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton), following a campaign largely funded by the Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber. Several Democratic senators, including Hensley, are now considered targets for the conservatives.

Update: 5:08 p.m. -- Kansas Republican Party Executive Director Clayton Barker told HuffPost that the event benefited 14 candidates going after open state Senate seats and not those challenging Democratic incumbents. He noted that the field was not focused on conservative challengers, saying that moderate Republican Kay Wolfe was in attendance. Barker said that he believes Democratic anger at the event is more due to the changing political environment in the state, brought about by the end of moderate Republican domination of the Senate.

"The Dems are angry because their contributions are slowing since they will no longer be able to form coalitions to stop legislative changes," Barker said in an email to HuffPost.



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