Two of the top three campaigns for Kansas governor are relying heavily on a single source of cash: their own money.
The last major campaign reports filed before next week’s election revealed that, in the last three months, Kris Kobach’s running mate accounted for nearly half the money hauled in by the Republican candidate.
Kelly cashes in
Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly raised the most money by a wide margin, pulling in almost $1 million more than Kobach. During the period from July 27 to Oct. 25, Kelly received $2.3 million.
Nearly all of it came from a range of donors, rather than self-financing. The filing does show Kelly’s running mate, state Sen. Lynn Rogers, donated $15 in cash to the campaign.
“Since Day One, the support and enthusiasm for this campaign has been overwhelming,” Kelly said in a statement. “Kansans of all political stripes have a home in our campaign to rebuild our state.”
Multiple polls have shown Kelly and Kobach in a statistical tie, with independent Greg Orman a distant third.
The campaign also entered the final week with Kelly having significantly more money in the bank than Kobach. Kelly ended the filing period with $530,000 available for last-minute expenses, compared to about $61,000 for Kobach.
Those dollars could be helpful for costs such as last-minute digital advertising, according to University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller. Yet he said cash flow earlier in the campaign was more important.
“It matters, at this point, but not as much,” Miller said. “If you’re a campaign, you probably have your TV time reserved, if not paid for.”
Kobach calls on Hartman
Kobach continued a trend from the primary, relying heavily on loans from his running mate, Wichita businessman Wink Hartman.
Of the about $1.4 million raised by Kobach during the filing period, nearly half of that came from Hartman. He injected $621,000 into the campaign on Oct. 25.
Kobach didn’t issue a statement to accompany his report, but during the primary Hartman told the Associated Press why he was loaning cash to the campaign.
“As a businessman,” Hartman said, “I know how important it is to invest in great leadership. And as a conservative, I know how critical investment is to the cause.”
Candidates dumping their own cash into campaigns isn’t something new, Miller said. What’s different this time is that it’s not the candidate for governor providing the money.
“It’s not uncommon for the lieutenant governor candidates to put in a bit of money,” Miller said. “It’s never looking like this.”
“Whenever someone writes a textbook on self-financing in elections,” Miller added, “the Kobach campaign could be a very interesting footnote.”
The situation is also different from loans provided to the campaign of then-Gov. Sam Brownback in 2014. In that case, then-Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer gave the campaign $500,000 on three separate occasions. The first two were quickly paid back, and the final payment was mostly paid back.
Those loans appeared to be targeted at boosting Brownback’s fundraising numbers. Because the money was mostly paid back, it wasn’t really spent on campaigning.
That’s not the case with Hartman’s loans, which have totaled more than $2 million.
“The Hartman money is the lifeblood of this campaign,” Miller said. “It’s actually being spent.”
Self-funding played a similarly critical role for businessman Greg Orman. His campaign raised $805,000. Of that, $580,000 was money the candidate put into his campaign. Orman’s campaign has a little less than $15,000 in the bank.
PACs mostly break down as expected
Both Kobach and Kelly garnered the support of dozens of political action committees.
Kelly had backing from unions and health care groups. Kobach attracted support from organizations interested in protecting gun rights and curbing abortion and immigration.
Several organizations supported both leading candidates, including the Spirit Aerosystems PAC, Kansas New Energy Economy PAC and Kansas Rural Independent Telecoms PAC.
“If you’re not sure who is going to win,” Miller said, “you just hedge your bets and give to both.”
Outside groups have also weighed in on behalf of all three top candidates. Notable examples are the Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association.
Other groups have also played a part, but because of campaign finance rules, they can be especially hard to track.
Dem draws cash in SoS race
The race to replace Kris Kobach as the Kansas secretary of state has attracted an outsized amount of money compared to other down-ballot races.
Former Google executive Brian McClendon, the Democrat, raised $674,000, including a $200,000 loan to his own campaign.
The Republican in the race, House Speaker Pro Tem Scott Schwab, raised $151,000 during the period, which included a $1,000 loan. He had also given his campaign a $25,000 loan in July before the reporting period started.
In this type of race, Miller said money has a more significant impact because it helps attract the attention of voters during a time that they may be focused on other races. Many voters are watching campaigns for Congress or governor, and may not have paid close attention to the secretary of state’s race.
“A lot of voters probably don’t even know what it’s about,” Miller said. “It’s harder if you’re a candidate in those races to really break through all of the noise.”
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.
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