Government & Politics

Outside groups spend millions on U.S. Senate race in Kansas, mostly to aid Pat Roberts

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts (left) has been receiving millions in donations from groups outside Kansas in his race against independent candidate Greg Orman.
Republican Sen. Pat Roberts (left) has been receiving millions in donations from groups outside Kansas in his race against independent candidate Greg Orman. The Associated Press

Outside groups continue to pour millions into the Kansas U.S. Senate race — spending that will mean even more political ads on your TV screen.

The vast majority of the fall spending is targeted to help incumbent GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, who remains in a razor-close race with independent Greg Orman. As of Thursday afternoon, groups supporting Roberts or opposing Orman had invested nearly $4 million in the race.

Orman also has had some outside help. The Committee to Elect an Independent Senate has spent nearly $520,000 supporting the businessman, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Federal Election Commission.

But the numbers suggest Roberts has enjoyed an eight-to-one advantage in outside spending this fall, with Election Day less than three weeks away.

“Kansas has never before seen in its history such a massive effort by so many interest groups to keep one man in office,” said Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University in Topeka.

Robert Maguire of the Center for Responsive Politics said Orman will have to raise money quickly to compete.

That means requests to a very limited number of donors “who have the money and desire to pony up a couple thousand dollars for campaign contributions or a couple million for some super PAC ads,” he said.

“In other words, not regular Kansans.”

Some of the outside spending is funded secretly. But the two biggest investors in Roberts’ effort are known: The Ending Spending Action Fund, a group affiliated with TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, has spent more than $1 million on the race. The Freedom Partners Action Fund has spent more than $1.5 million.

Freedom Partners is affiliated with billionaire businessmen Charles and David Koch. Other donors to the super PAC include hedge fund manager Robert Mercer of New York and David Humphreys of Joplin, a frequent donor to Missouri candidates.

Other well-known GOP groups are also working for Roberts. American Crossroads, founded by Republican consultant Karl Rove, has invested in Kansas. So has the Faith Family Freedom Fund, which donated a bus and expenses. It did the same in 2012 for former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin in Missouri.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is airing ads against Orman, but it has not yet filed specific expenditures with the FEC. The AFL-CIO will endorse Orman and provide him ground-level help, the National Journal reported.

While outside spending in Kansas may yet reach a record level in the state, it pales compared to some other races. In Kentucky, where Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell faces Democrat Alison Grimes, outsiders have spent $30 million on TV ads and election communications.

Roberts’ advantage from outside groups is only part of the picture. New figures show the Republican’s own campaign committee narrowly out-raised Orman’s in the last three months, providing the incumbent with a slight cash advantage in the closing days of the race.

Both campaigns refused to provide detailed campaign funding and spending reports to The Star, despite repeated requests. Senate reports are typically filed on paper, not electronically, in Washington, D.C.

But the Orman campaign said it raised $1.5 million in the July-to-September period. Roberts raised $1.6 million over the same quarter. Those totals don’t reveal where the money came from.

Both Kansas Senate candidates are continuing to raise money for their campaign committees. Invitations were issued in the past week for a fundraiser for Orman in New York co-hosted by Jonathan Soros, an investment manager. He’s the son of billionaire Democratic activist George Soros.

The sharp spike in campaign fundraising and spending in Kansas reflects the close nature of the race in the state — and the stakes.

A poll this week from the Kansas City-based Remington Research Group showed Roberts leading Orman, 48 percent to 46 percent. Other recent polls have shown a similar movement to Roberts, a trend Republicans say reflects Kansans “coming home” for the incumbent.

It may also reflect the effect of massive outside spending against Orman, virtually all of it accusing the independent of being a liberal Democrat.

This week’s Real Clear Politics polling average showed Roberts and Orman tied at 45.2 percent of the vote each. The website calls the race a toss-up.

Insight Kansas, another poll aggregator, gives the edge to Orman, 45 percent to 42.2 percent for Roberts.

Roberts remains one of the few Senate Republicans in real danger of losing re-election.

Party control of the Senate remains a significant issue in the Kansas race and a focus for both parties across the country. Republicans need to pick up six Senate seats to achieve control of the body next year. Most analysts now expect them to reach that goal.

Orman has declined to say which party’s leader he’ll back in the Senate if elected. Instead, he says, he’ll caucus with the majority party, or — if there is no clear majority — the party that promises to address what he calls a “problem-solving agenda.”

A poll for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal suggests the electorate remains unsettled and restless across the nation, which could affect the final outcome in Kansas.

“It’s going to be a very good Republican year,” GOP pollster Bill McInturff told the network and newspaper. But then he added: “When you are sitting on top of an unstable electorate, there is a joker in the deck.”

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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