Government & Politics

Kansas Democrat apologizes for raising money off two deputies’ deaths

Brent Welder, candidate for Kansas’ 3rd District in Congress
Brent Welder, candidate for Kansas’ 3rd District in Congress

A Kansas congressional candidate apologized Monday for sending out an email about the deaths of two Wyandotte County sheriff’s deputies that led to a fundraising page.

Brent Welder, who is vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, sent out a campaign email Saturday that sought to link the deaths of two deputies in Kansas City, Kan., to the larger gun control debate and to use it as an opportunity to criticize the incumbent Republican.

Deputies Patrick Rohrer and Theresa King were shot while transporting a suspect near the county courthouse on Friday. The investigation is ongoing, but investigators think the suspect may have obtained one deputy’s gun and used it to kill the two deputies.

Welder noted that his campaign office, which is near the courthouse, went into lockdown after the shooting.

“I’m grateful our staff and volunteers are safe, but two sheriff’s deputies were killed yesterday because someone who shouldn’t have had a gun had one,” Welder, a labor attorney who moved to Kansas last year, said in the Saturday email to supporters.

The email provided a link to a petition to tell Yoder to stop accepting money from the National Rifle Association. People who signed the petition were then taken to a fundraising page for Welder.

The debate over gun control has dominated the campaign for months, and Welder's email also promoted a Monday gun control rally in Kansas City, Kan., that was intended to put pressure on Yoder, who has been dogged by questions about the issue.

The Kansas State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police strongly criticized what it called an effort to raise money off “the cold-blooded murder” of two deputies.

“Mr. Welder’s use of this tragedy to further the funding of his political campaign is deplorable and completely misguided. This horrible event has nothing to do with gun control. Instead, it is another unfortunate example of the unrelenting attacks on law enforcement officers throughout our country,” the lodge said in a statement.

“Our efforts should be focused on comforting the grieving families and supporting those the men and women who place their lives on the line each day. It is not a time for political partisanship.”

Shawn Borich, Welder’s campaign spokesman, apologized Monday for what he described as a mistake.

“Over the weekend, our campaign made a mistake by sending out a petition email that linked signers to a donation page after they had signed our petition. We apologize for this error, particularly to the families of the two sheriff deputies killed,” Borich said in an email to The Star.

“Moving forward, Brent has directed the senior members of the campaign to review our email policy to ensure that a mistake like this never happens again. And we’ve committed to donate all of the funds raised from the petition email to the families of our two fallen heroes.”

Borich later said in a phone call that the campaign received seven donations totaling $104 from the email. He said the campaign would donate $250 to the families.

Welder’s campaign issued the apology after being pressed by The Star about the email Monday afternoon after it had sparked criticism from his opponents in both parties.

“It was classless,” said Mike McCamon, another Democrat seeking the seat in Kansas’ 3rd congressional district. “It’s not about you, Brent. It’s about two police officers and their families.”

McCamon added that “officers being overcome by an institutionalized person is not a gun control issue.”

Yoder’s campaign said in a statement that the email “perfectly exemplifies the toxic nature of our current political environment."

Sharice Davids, another Democrat seeking the seat, called on Welder to donate all the money raised from the email to the memorial fund for the slain deputies. She issued that call before his campaign’s announcement.

Davids said it undermines the push for gun control to link the incident at the courthouse with incidents in which a violent person was able to buy a gun because of loopholes in the law.

“If I read this email I’d think that Brent doesn’t understand the difference between someone who wrestled a gun away from a sheriff’s deputy and someone who went into a store to purchase a gun,” said Davids, whose mother was a police officer in Overland Park.

“It took one tragedy and tried to conflate it with something else, the gun safety issues we’ve been trying to address. … This was a different set of circumstances.”

Jay Sidie, the party's 2016 nominee who is running again, said in an email that Welder's email would make it tougher for the rest of the Democratic field to talk about the issue.

"Our opponents often criticize us for using tragedy for political gain, and this statement makes it harder for the rest of us, who fight for these families first, to achieve meaningful reform. An apology is not enough for these families," Sidie said. "We hope that in the future the Brent Welder campaign joins us to pause and understand before writing statements that put their own political aims before the needs of these families."