Facing an uphill battle with voters in the fall election, Democrats are stepping up their criticism of Kansas gubernatorial candidate Sam Brownback's ties to a low-profile corporation.
It is called Koch Industries, a Wichita-based energy and consumer products conglomerate and one of the largest private companies in the world. Two of the richest people in America run it: Charles and David Koch.
A New Yorker magazine article last month revealed that the Koch brothers have been quietly bankrolling the tea party movement, which has boosted the success of insurgent conservative candidates in several Republican primary races this year.
Democrats point out that Koch-related interests have given Brownback, a Republican, hundreds of thousands of dollars over his 16-year career, more than any other candidate. They claim that the Kochs may have played a key role in Brownback's most important race — in 1996, when he won a close contest to take Bob Dole's open Senate seat.
Some Democrats said they think that long relationship could lead to favors for Koch if Brownback wins in November.
"No other contributor (to Brownback) can claim what the Kochs can . . . and we want to have a discussion with voters about that," said state Sen. Tom Holland, Brownback's Democratic opponent.
Senate minority leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat and 34-year veteran of the Legislature, put it more bluntly: "If Sam becomes governor, I think essentially Koch Industries will have the key to the governor's office."
Brownback dismissed questions about Koch's support, arguing that it was no different than other campaign donors and that he would not give it special treatment if he was elected governor.
"We have over 4,000 contributors," Brownback said when asked about Koch's involvement in his campaigns.
Brownback and the Kochs don't see eye to eye on every ideological issue. As libertarians, the Kochs have been largely silent on abortion — an issue of deep concern to Brownback.
Also, Brownback favors renewable-energy incentives that the Kochs oppose, his spokeswoman noted.
"He (Brownback) doesn't expect to agree with all of his supporters on every issue," said Sherriene Jones-Sontag. "In his mind there's no reason to single them (the Kochs) out."
Brownback maintains that his push for deregulation might help smaller companies more than Koch, which has spent millions lobbying on environmental and energy issues across the country.
"Deregulation helps small businesses, not big businesses," Brownback said. "Wall Street, the big guys, can hire lobbyists and lawyers (to influence regulations) the types I'm talking about are primarily small businesses who can't. They don't know what the regulatory climate is going to be."
Still, the Koch-Brownback relationship apparently is sensitive for the company. Despite several requests from The Kansas City Star, officials declined on-the-record interviews about the nature of the relationship and its possible implications for Kansas policy.
A Koch spokeswoman, however, issued a one-sentence statement: "Koch companies have supported Sen. Brownback because he has been a champion for fiscal responsibility and free markets, both of which are critical to the success and survival of our state and our country."
Read more of this story at KansasCity.com.
Read the New Yorker article on the Koch brothers.