TOPEKA — The seven Republican members of the Kansas Senate’s financial services committee stand to benefit from a joint fundraiser in October hosted in Topeka by lobbying associations that often find themselves with legislation before the panel.
A related gathering is on tap next month for the seven GOP senators assigned to the chamber’s public health committee.
Invitations circulated to potential participants suggested contributions ranging from $100 to $1,000. The objective is to expand campaign accounts well ahead of the 2016 elections when all 165 seats in the Kansas Legislature will be up for grabs.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he objected to bringing a partisan majority of the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee and of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee together as units for the purpose of extracting donations from individuals, corporations or organizations who make it their business to influence public policy in those areas.
“This is highly unusual, especially to do it by committee,” Hensley said.
Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said there was nothing improper about aligning special interests with politicians in a position to influence legislative initiatives.
“Everybody knows who gives contributions to whom because it is always publicly reported,” he said. “It’s all perfectly legal. Sounds like an effective way of getting people together. I have no heartburn.”
Donors at these GOP events could earn bang for their buck because Republicans hold overwhelming majorities on all Senate committees. On both committees involved in these October fundraisers, Republicans control seven of nine seats.
Hensley claimed, but Barker dismissed, the notion these pending fundraisers resembled an approach taken in 2012 to benefit war chests of 14 Republican candidates for the Senate.
Three years ago, Gov. Sam Brownback asked contributors gathered at The Aviva Building to give $500 or $1,000 to each of these GOP nominees. In the alternative, the governor requested a commitment from donors to each raise $7,000 or $14,000 to be divided evenly among the 14 candidates.
On Oct. 7, Hein Governmental Consulting and Amerigroup, an insurance company that contracts with the state to serve Medicaid clients, will host a lunchtime gathering at HHB BBQ in downtown Topeka. This event is for benefit of Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican who chairs the Senate health panel, and one-half dozen of her committee colleagues.
Contributions of up to $1,000 are to be directed to Sens. Elaine Bowers, of Concordia, Jim Denning, of Overland Park, Mitch Holmes, of St. John, Jake LaTurner, of Pittsburg, Garrett Love, of Montezuma, and Michael O’Donnell, of Wichita.
On Oct. 20, the Kansas Bankers Association will host an afternoon reception for all Republicans on the Senate’s financial institutions committee. The associations of bankers, dentists, hospitals, insurance agents, optometrists, restaurants as well as the Kansas Medical Society are lined up to host. Suggested contributions are $100, $250 and $500.
Bowers, Denning and LaTurner also serve on the financial committee, but would share the campaign windfall with Sen. Jeff Longbine, the Emporia chairman of the committee, and Sens. Rob Olson, of Olathe, Vicki Schmidt, of Topeka, and Rick Wilborn, of McPherson.
Doug Wareham, executive vice president of the Kansas Bankers Association, said the general objective was to build deeper relationships with lawmakers. In addition to these two GOP committee events, he said, there might be a comparable fundraiser for Senate agriculture committee members.
“I’m not really sure there is an objective for us as a host,” Wareham said. “It’s members, of either caucus, making sure they help each other.”
A trio of Democratic senators — Oletha Faust-Goudeau, of Wichita, Tom Hawk, of Manhattan, and Pat Pettey, of Kansas City, Kan. — are preparing for a joint Topeka fundraiser in October. None of these Democrats shared a committee in the 2015 session.