The Buzz

Labor money pours into Kansas to defeat Sam Brownback

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback

Labor union money is flowing into Kansas this election season, fueling the campaign machine trying to topple Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

Hundreds of thousands of union dollars are going to political action committees and independent expenditure campaigns that provide some of the counterweight that Brownback is getting from outside interests.

Unions are spending more than $1.5 million on Kansas campaigns, state and federal campaign records show. Many of the expenditures are directly targeting Brownback, who is seeking a second term.

Among the leaders are teachers unions, still stinging from a school finance bill that Brownback signed eliminating some teacher job protections. Davis supported keeping the job protections.

The Kansas National Education Association, the national NEA and the American Federation of Teachers are pouring money into Kansas in the aftermath of the state’s decision to eliminate due process hearings for teachers.

For instance, the Kansas NEA has pumped $270,000 into the Kansas Values Institute, which has been heavy on television running advertisements against Brownback. And the American Federation of Teachers gave Kansas Values another $75,000.

The Kansas Values Institute is a non-proft social welfare organization that does not need to disclose its donors. It’s spent at least $2.1 million campaigning against Brownback, according to a new report out Thursday by the Center for Public Integity.

The group lists its chairman as Dan Watkins, a Lawrence attorney active in Democratic politics. Its vice chair is Jill Quigley, a former state lawmaker from Lenexa. The group’s treasurer is former state Sen. John Vratil of Leawood.

Federal records show that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gave Kansas Values $100,000 and the Laborers Political League Education Fund chipped in another $50,000.

But the union money is funneling into the state elsewhere, including two political action committees siding with Democrats.

A political action committee established by former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius reported raising $641,500 from labor unions in the last three months, new state campaign finance records show.

The Bluestem PAC, established by Sebelius when she was state insurance commissioner, reported receiving $325,000 from the United Steelworkers union and $208,000 from the NEA’s children and public education fund.

Bluestem sent about $215,000 directly to the state Democratic Party in the quarter ending Oct. 23, records show.

The NEA has made no secret of its interest in Kansas. The NEA announced in early October that it was launching an independent expenditure campaign against Brownback for cuts he made in education.

Records show that the NEA has spent about $766,000 in ads, according to the Center for Public Integity’s report.

The Kansas People’s Action Political Fund in Wichita has raised about $65,000 from unions, including communications workers, nurses and public employees. The group has been spending money campaign against Brownback and Repubican Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

The amount of union spending does not appear to offset the outside groups that are helping Brownback.

The Center for Public Integrity estimates that seven outside groups, including the Republican Governor’s Association and the Alliance for Freedom, spent about $4.6 million for Brownback so far. Outside groups have spent about $2.8 million for Davis.

To reach Brad Cooper, call 816-234-7724 or send email to bcooper@kcstar.com

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