Government & Politics

Kansas Senate race: Wagle loans campaign money as Marshall pulls ahead in fundraising

Kansas Republican Rep. Roger Marshall holds a commanding financial advantage in the race to replace retiring Sen. Pat Roberts, far ahead of two GOP competitors who made six-figure personal loans to fund their campaigns.

The western Kansas Congressman, who entered the field with more than $1 million on hand from his last House campaign, collected more than $570,000 during the quarter that ended Sept. 30. He has about $1.9 million in cash on hand, the latest federal filings show.

The personal loans were made by Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and former Johnson County Commissioner Dave Lindstrom.

Wagle’s campaign claimed in August that the Wichita Republican raised more than $400,000 during her first week in the race. The campaign said last week that she had pulled in more than $500,000.

But the campaign neglected to mention that the $523,000 raised included a $275,000 personal loan from the candidate. Wagle pulled in less than $250,000 in contributions when her own money is not included.

Wagle’s former chief of staff, Harrison Hems, criticized the campaign’s decision to frame the personal loan, which allowed under the law, as part of a fundraising haul in its earlier statements.

“To me it was kind of disingenuous to say they raised $400,000 when they didn’t really raise $400,000,” said Hems, who departed as her chief of staff this month after serving in the role since 2015.

Hems, who worked in Wagle’s taxpayer-funded office, cited disagreement with requests for him to do work on behalf of the Senate campaign as the reason he was asked to leave the office.

Now, that he’s cut ties with Wagle, he spoke freely about how the campaign used her personal money to inflate fundraising totals.

“Susan loaned 200 whatever it was, and then she raised another 200 some, and I haven’t delved into that to see how much of that was in-state. I know she counted 97 percent was in-state, but more than half of what she raised was from her, who’s a Kansas citizen,” he said.

Wagle’s contributions still come primarily from Kansans even when her personal loan is excluded, according campaign spokesman Matt Beynon, who brushed off Hems’ criticism.

“Susan made an early commitment to be fully invested in winning this race and she is living up to that commitment. She raised nearly $250,000, over 90% of which was from hard working Kansas families, and she is well positioned to stand as the proven and trusted conservative in this race against the moderate, insider congressman and perennial losing candidate Kobach,” he said in a statement.

Wagle’s wealth from bingo

Lindstrom, a Kansas City Chiefs defensive end from 1978 to 1986, has loaned his campaign $125,000 since launching in June. Excluding the loans, he raised more than $150,000 during the financial quarter and $250,000 since entering the race. He has more than $240,000 cash on hand as of the end of September.

Lindstrom made most of his wealth from four Burger King franchises he owned in the Kansas City area following his NFL playing career until 2011. Wagle and her husband have a variety of investments in Wichita, including a string of bingo parlors.

Marshall’s campaign appeared to take a jab at both of these candidates Tuesday, noting that its report did not include any self-funding.

“This campaign is powered by the support of Kansans,” campaign manager Eric Pahls said in a statement. “Kansans and those around the country are taking notice – they know there’s one conservative candidate in the race who can win against a Democrat in November.”

Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach also lags Marshall despite high-profile fundraisers with billionaire Peter Thiel and former White House strategist Steve Bannon last month.

Kobach raised more than $250,000 and has more than $198,000 cash on hand, according to his FEC filing. He did not engage in any self-funding.

Thiel and Bannon both contributed $5,600, the maximum allowed under federal law.

Kobach’s ‘negative name ID’

Kobach’s filing also shows a $2,500 donation from Rebekah Mercer, whose family is a major investor in Breitbart, a site for which Kobach regularly contributes, and a $2,200 donation from Erik Prince, founder of private security firm Blackwater and brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Kobach’s campaign claimed that the candidate received contributions from 1,300 individuals.

“The sheer number of donors reflects his popularity with grassroots Republicans. There is only one conservative movement candidate in this race,” campaign spokesman Steve Drake said in a statement.

Kobach pulled in roughly $190,000 on 156 itemized contributions. Another $53,000 came from unitemized contributions, which would have had to be spread out from more than a thousand individuals based on Drake’s claims.

Of the itemized contributions, the bulk comes from out-of-state sources with only $82,075 from Kansas donors.

“Kris Kobach has probably the most name ID, but also probably has the most negative name ID,” said former Kansas Republican chair Kelly Arnold, who noted Kobach’s struggle to raise money during last year’s governor race.

Arnold still considers Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to be the best option if Republicans can persuade him to enter the race, but of the current field he said Marshall was well positioned as the congressman from the most heavily Republican part of the state.

Every Republican except Marshall was outraised by Democrat Barry Grissom for the quarter.

Grissom, a former U.S. attorney, collected nearly $470,000 after launching his bid in July and ended the quarter with more than $366,000 cash on hand.

Manhattan Mayor Pro Tem Usha Reddi, who is also vying for the Democratic nomination, raised more than $61,000 and ended the quarter with nearly $54,000 cash on hand. Neither Democrat put any personal money to the race.

State Sen. Barbara Bollier, who launched her campaign for the Democratic nomination Wednesday, will not have to file a finance report until January.

More candidates could still enter the race in the future.

American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, a Wichita native, discussed the the race Tuesday night at meeting in Washington with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and officials from the Club For Growth, according to multiple sources.

Schlapp didn’t confirm the details of the meeting, but affirmed in a text message that he remains open to a run in Kansas.

“Next year is perhaps the most impactful political year due to the much needed change President Trump is bringing to Washington,” Schlapp said. “We want to make sure that we make the right decisions to re-elect the President, hold the Republican Senate Majority and be prepared for inevitable Supreme Court openings.”

Shorman reported from Topeka.

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