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SPOTLIGHT
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Probe could threaten Brownback's re-election

Published on -4/29/2014, 10:23 PM

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The reported Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the activities of three former close supporters of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is explosive news.

The effects could range from a mild diversion to toppling a governor who's running for re-election this fall.

The potential charges would center on something Kansans readily could understand: Did these confidants use their influence with the conservative Republican governor and his staff for private gain?

Kansans of all political bents would be outraged if this proves to be true -- and yes, that's a big "if" right now.

But Brownback has portrayed himself, as all politicians tend to do, as being free of outside influences when it comes to setting policies and spending tax dollars. Any news that undermines that reputation would harm the governor.

This news will help the efforts of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis paint Brownback as being a person who tolerates abuses of the political system.

The reported probe also will help center attention on Brownback's widely reported ousting of even moderate Republicans in the 2012 elections. That intra-party feud destroyed alliances among some people in the GOP party in Kansas. Brownback largely succeeded in his efforts, giving him a Legislature bent to do his wishes on all kinds of monetary and social issues.

The crucial but unanswered question right now: Could a governor so intimately and ruthlessly involved in leading a strategy to destroy part of his own party not know his closest allies might have been benefiting from their connections to him?

Here's the concise summary of the story: "The Topeka Capital-Journal learned the months-long inquiry involves Parallel Strategies, a rapidly expanding Topeka consulting and lobbying firm created in 2013 by a trio of veteran Brownback employees who left government service to work in an environment where coziness with former colleagues could pay dividends."

The biggest apparent topic is the relentless work Brownback and his staff did to support privatization of Kansas' Medicaid program. It was and remains controversial, in part because of the troubled roll-out that irritated many people receiving services through Medicaid.

David Kensinger, one of Brownback's most active supporters and a former chief of the governor's staff, was one founder of Parallel Strategies. The others are George Stafford, described by the newspaper as "a longtime fundraiser, employee and adviser to Brownback," and Riley Scott, "a senior staff member to Brownback while he was in the U.S. Senate and son-in-law of Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle," a Wichita Republican.

The FBI does not acknowledge investigations, so no official confirmation was available.

Finally, yes, Republicans certainly can contend this probe does not really exist, or claim it's politically motivated and won't result in any charges.

That last outcome is the one they fervently are hoping for as the campaign revs up.

But having your name linked to a federal investigation never is good news for a politician. Brownback suddenly has a large, new headache as he runs for re-election in Kansas.

Yael T. Abouhalkah is a columnist

for the Kansas City Star.

abouhalkah@kcstar.com

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