“I’m not seeing the allegations of criminal activity,” Brownback told The Wichita Eagle in his first public comments on the topic. “I’m seeing a lot of efforts to try to smear people.”
A report that the FBI was examining activities linked to David Kensinger, the governor’s former chief of staff and current chairman of his political organization, first appeared April 26 on the Topeka Capital-Journal’s website.
The Eagle and The Star have since spoken to three lobbyists and a former state official who said they were interviewed by federal investigators as early as 2012 and as recently as a month ago. They asked not to be identified.
The sources said they were interviewed about whether Kensinger and others have been involved in “pay-to-play” influence, in which political promises are made in exchange for money.
The governor specifically addressed a portion of the initial report that scrutinized former staffers who now represent KanCare providers as lobbyists.
“We bid everything out on KanCare. And you’ve got to be qualified, and you’ve got to get the lowest bid on it,” he said.
Brownback said his administration has been careful to protect against impropriety when awarding state contracts.
“We try to run things at a very high standard,” he said. “We try to bid out most state contracts. And do it purposely so that you get the lowest bid, but also so that you don’t have the ethical questions raised about it.”
Brownback dismissed the notion that Kensinger or any other associates acted illegally at any point before or after leaving his administration.
“Anything else I’m hearing people talk about are allegations — I’m not hearing what anybody’s saying that’s criminal activity,” he said.
Federal investigators have scrutinized meetings that Kensinger held with lobbyists at state Republican Party headquarters in August 2012, including some attended by the governor’s current chief of staff, Landon Fulmer, according to sources interviewed for the investigation.
Two of the interviewees said they were pressured and intimidated by Kensinger to support and donate to certain candidates. But another interviewee said no quid pro quo took place, a point emphasized to federal agents when questioned.
Kensinger, the chairman of Road Map Solutions Inc., a political organization set up to support Brownback and other conservatives, said in an email that no undue pressure was placed on people to donate to a campaign and that no laws were broken in the course of fundraising.
“Absolutely not,” Kensinger said. “Road Map PAC raised money for Republican candidates just as Democratic Governors raise money for Democratic candidates. We did so legally and appropriately.”
Kensinger used rent-free office space at the Kansas Republican Party’s headquarters during the summer of 2012, Clay Barker, the party’s executive director, said in a phone call. Barker said he was not working in an official capacity for the party and was given an office to use temporarily in recognition of the work he had done for the governor and the party.
Eileen Hawley, the governor’s spokeswoman, addressed Fulmer’s presence at these meetings with an emailed statement.
“Raising funds for candidates is a completely acceptable and common occurrence, in both parties. It is perfectly legal for a member of the Governor’s personal staff to participate in fundraising and that activity is in full compliance with state ethics statutes and regulations,” she said. “For people to infer anything else is quite simply wrong.”
Hawley said the governor’s office has not been contacted about any investigation and will cooperate fully if it is. She also criticized the media’s use of anonymous sources in reporting on the investigation.
“Baseless allegations made by people whose motives are unknown and who hide behind anonymity are suspect. Sam Brownback has served the people of Kansas with honesty and integrity for over two decades,” she said.
Bridget Patton, a spokeswoman with the FBI’s Kansas City office, said that she could not talk about whether there was an investigation.