Kansas Attorney General Election Will Set Spending Record

Attorney General Election Will Set Spending Record
By Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director Kansas Taxpayers Network

Will the checkbook of the controversial abortion doctor from Wichita, George Tiller be large enough to defeat Attorney General Phill Kline’s bid for reelection? That is the underlying financial fact beneath the most expensive race for Kansas Attorney General in state history. The huge amount of spending for this position is now unfolding before voters’ eyes.

The Democratic Party challenger for Kansas Attorney General is Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison. Morrison, who began running TV ads in mid-September, raised almost $1 million for his campaign treasury as reported to the state after the last reporting period in late July, just a few days before the August 1 primary.

Morrison is the second of the two, well publicized liberal GOP defectors this year, the other being Governor Sebelius’ running mate Mark Parkinson, who have recently become democrats and are now statewide candidates.

Both attorney general candidates began hard campaigning with a mid-September debate at a forum hosted by Wichita State University. Naturally, the abortion issue appeared but what is fascinating is the expansion of the abortion debate into other issues. Dr. George Tiller’s ProKanDo Political Action Committee (PAC) was not only attacking Phill Kline but labeled the attorney general as their number one election target. No surprise there. What was fascinating was the ProKanDo PAC flyer distributed at the state fair that blasted two fiscally conservative groups, the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, that are not involved in the abortion battle or even social issues in general. Both groups oppose tax hikes and higher spending.

Attorney General Phill Kline’s role in a variety of legal issues has gotten press attention. Kline’s office ended up playing a major role in trying to defend the state’s budget from the activist Kansas Supreme Court’s school finance ruling. Kline’s record as a leading advocate for tax reform when he chaired the Kansas house’s tax committee, cutting property and a wide range of other taxes in 1997 and 1998, and later trying to limit tax growth seems to have become part of the ProKanDo abortion advocates criticism of what this PAC calls, “…ultra conservative groups…” Abortion advocates now have a big government fiscal position according to Dr. Tiller’s PAC. That is likely to be unsettling news to fiscally conservative voters who are not partisans in the abortion battles as well as fiscal conservatives and libertarians who support keeping abortion legal.

The abortion battle is also going to be fought on traditional legal issues. Kline had taken what was largely viewed as a “legal hail Mary” appeal of the Kansas Supreme Court’s latest ruling against the Kansas death penalty law to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kline, who has been criticized for not having extensive prosecutorial or a huge amount of litigation experience, not only took the Marsh death penalty case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but won this case this year. That is a major accomplishment for any lawyer. Kline will certainly point out that his opponent, Paul Morrison, who enjoys extensive experience as a prosecutor, cannot point to any U.S. Supreme Court wins in his resume.

Morrison is hurt by the endorsement of Kline by 89 of 105 county sheriffs in Kansas. Even more painful for Morrison is the 89 sheriffs backing Kline include a majority of the Democratic sheriffs. It is notable that the largest and most liberal Kansas newspapers gave extensive news coverage to Morrison and Parkinson’s defections from the Republican Party earlier this year but not the sheriffs’ endorsement. The paucity of news coverage about the sheriffs’ endorsement was followed by endorsements from police groups like the Kansas Fraternal Order of Police as well as the Kansas State Troopers Association for Kline. These Kline endorsements have also been largely ignored on most daily news coverage in Kansas.

The largest fact that has been ignored is campaign cash, PAC’s, and Dr. Tiller’s role in the 2006 attorney general race. Kline spent $700,000 in getting elected attorney general in 2002. Kline had faced a three-way GOP primary and spent roughly half of his funds just getting the Republican nomination according to his campaign spokesperson. Freestatemedia.org reports that Dr. Tiller provided $153,000 of last minute campaign donations into the last minute effort to defeat Phill Kline in 2002. Kline won by a paper thin margin of less than 5,000 votes four years ago. The Kline campaign attributes $300,000 in Dr. Tiller funds were spent against him from the 2002 attorney general’s race. News coverage about this last minute spending spree by the abortion lobby only appeared in a handful of Kansas newspapers and this belated coverage only appeared well after the 2002 election was history. That was unlike the independent campaign expenditures reporting on behalf of Sam Brownback’s campaigns for U.S. senator in 1996 and 1998.

That six figure spending for attorney general will be far eclipsed in 2006. Dr. Tiller’s spending on behalf of his attorney general candidate, Paul Morrison, will appear in force after the reporting deadline is passed. Expect a new PAC to appear to fund these last minute ads that will disappear right after the election using the plan that almost beat Kline in 2002. The key question in Kansas politics is: will Dr. Tiller have enough cash to change enough votes with a last minute attack that will be successful to unseat the Republican, Phill Kline?

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