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Where did Kansas state senators’ campaign funds come from? The answers might surprise you.


Where did Kansas state senators’ campaign funds come from? The answers might surprise you.

Jun 04, 2023 | 4:33 am ET
By Amber Dickinson
Where did Kansas state senators’ campaign funds come from? The answers might surprise you.
Senate President Ty Masterson gathers with colleagues in the Senate chamber before walking to the House for Gov. Laura Kelly's State of the State speech. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

In the nonelection timeframe spanning Jan. 1, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2022, members of the Kansas Senate took more than $1 million from political action committees, special interest groups, large corporations or businesses, and out-of-state donors. Only 11% of all 40 senators’ campaign contributions came from individual citizens living in Kansas.

As cited in legally required ethics reports, Republicans took in $766,514 from these organizations, while Democrats accumulated $248,723.93. One Independent member accepted $6,350.00. These contributions were made about the same time that some House Republicans aimed to suppress campaign finance violations investigations, pave the way for limitless campaign contributions and oust the chairman of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, Mark Skoglund.

The four top recipients are members of the Republican Party.

Sen. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, reported 100% of his contributions came from PACs, corporations or other types of businesses. Sen. Beverly Gossage, R-Eudora, reported that 99.7% did, while former Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, R-Galena, reported 99% of all his reported contributions came from these organizations. Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican who received more than $80,000 total, reported 99% of incoming donations were from PACs, wealthy businesses and large corporations.

Democrats with high rates of contributions from groups other than Kansas residents include Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, of Wichita, reporting 96% of her donations as coming from these types of organizations; Sen. Pat Pettey, of Kansas City, at a rate of 95%; Sen. Tom Holland, of Baldwin City, who attributed 94% of his funds as stemming from these groups; and Sen. Marci Francisco, of Lawrence, with 88% of total contributions coming from PACs, special interest groups, and large corporations or businesses.

It is interesting to note that while Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, took the most in total campaign contributions at $85,064.00, these kind of contributions accounted for 81% of all her donations. This is considerably less than the percentage for Republican leadership.

Only two of our 40 Senate members reported less than 60% of contributions from these sources. Sen. Ethan Corson, D-Prairie Village, and Sen. Brenda Dietrich, R-Topeka, listed such contributions as 55% and 58% of their total funds for the reporting cycle. The remaining percentages of money from powerful entities to Kansas state senators ranged from 72-100%.

More than half of all the contributions reported on legislators’ reports came from in-state PACs and corporations, including State Farm Insurance and Blue Cross Blue Shield, Evergy, Delta Dental, casinos and liquor interests, and groups such as the Kansas Bail Agents Association and the Kansas Hospital Association. The Stray Dog PAC, Kansas Cable PAC, Kansas Automobile Dealers Election Action Committee and the Kansas Hospital Association PAC are just some of the political action committees listed throughout reports of Republicans and Democrats alike.

Almost 40% of the total of all contributions come from out-of-state organizations, such as Anheuser-Busch, the Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, payday loan companies, and large telecommunications corporations, such as Comcast, T-Mobile and AT&T. Out-of-state money from ONEOK, a large natural gas provider in Oklahoma, teledentistry company Smile Direct Club, CVS and Walmart was also frequently cited.

About$16,000 in contributions came from individuals living out of state.

A considerable portion of that amount came from employees of the Beneficient Company Group, a Texas business led by businessman Brad Heppner and supported by Masterson, the Senate president. This company is under fire for creating a pawn shop for the rich while promising rural economic development in Kansas. Efforts to support initiatives proposed by Heppner and his company were overwhelmingly backed by the Kansas Legislature.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled campaign contributions are considered free speech, and the contributions to our senators fall within the legal guidelines of Kansas ethics laws. However, the people living in Kansas should be paying attention to where money is coming from and what issues are given the most attention during legislative sessions.

We should especially be paying attention to attempts by our legislators to gut the ability of the ethics commission to monitor campaign donations.

Please ask yourself: Am I comfortable with bills passed by lawmakers largely funded by wealthy political entities, some of whom do not even live in Kansas? Instead of attempting to remodel the ethics commission to open pathways for more money from powerful political forces or push legislation that will benefit the already privileged, perhaps the Legislature should focus more on the true needs of the people who live and vote here.

The people of Kansas deserve to have a voice in their Legislature, regardless of their ability to fund political campaigns and activities.

Your voice should matter.

Amber Dickinson holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Kansas and is a co-host of Inspire on KTWU. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.