Commentary: Money doesn't always buy political happiness

A fun riddle to ponder is whether Kansas is typically behind the times or ahead of the political curve.

Lately, I'm leaning toward the trendsetter theory. Exhibit A: The sudden intense interest in the shadowy Koch family, which bankrolls candidates and interest groups inclined to support an anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-environmentalist, anti-government agenda.

A spate of media accounts, including an exhaustive piece by writer Jane Mayer in the New Yorker, is fueling curiosity about the Wichita industrialists. But in Kansas, the Koch presence has been part of the landscape for years.

And here's the good news: In Kansas, the reddest of red states, libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch frequently don't get their way.

The influence of the owners of Koch Industries, an oil conglomerate, is seen in largess to GOP candidates. Koch money arguably propelled Sam Brownback into the U.S. Senate in 1996.

It is detected in the robust presence of the Kansas Chapter of Americans for Prosperity. AFP, the brainchild of David Koch, was up and running in Kansas — protesting spending and taxes and targeting politicians who didn't toe the line — long before it was revealed to be the organizing force of tea party gatherings nationwide.

Art Hall, formerly a senior economist with Koch Industries, is now ensconced at the University of Kansas as executive director of the Koch-funded Center for Applied Economics. Hall frequently testifies before Kansas legislative committees and other groups, advocating for small government and low taxes.

Koch family money underpins a network of think tanks and Internet news and research sites in Kansas. The network overlaps with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, notable for its aggressive anti-government stance.

To read the complete column, visit www.kansascity.com.