TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Washington-area group with ties to veteran Republican operatives is spending at least $246,000 on radio and television advertisements in Kansas markets praising conservative GOP Gov. Sam Brownback ahead of the state’s primary election, records showed Thursday.
The Alliance for Freedom ads also attempt to build public support for a proposed coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas and stir opposition to the federal Environmental Protection Agency as it attempts to cut greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change. Brownback supports the $2.8 billion coal plant and has criticized a new EPA rule on power-plant emissions as “a war against middle America.”
The alliance’s 30-second television ad began Wednesday, criticizing Democratic President Barack Obama, touting Brownback’s support for the coal plant, praising him for “fighting back” against the EPA and urging people to join his “fight for Kansas jobs and cheaper energy.” The spot and a 60-second radio ad with similar content are scheduled to run through the Aug. 5 primary.
Television ad contracts available through the Federal Communications Commission’s website list a longtime conservative GOP consultant, Barry Bennett, as the alliance’s president and an Alexandria, Virginia, address that also houses his consulting firm. Bennett has worked for political action committees associated with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and one of the firm’s partners is Mary Cheney, daughter of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.
Brownback is facing a potentially tough re-election race in his GOP-leaning state, partly because of questions about whether massive personal income tax cuts enacted at his urging are stimulating the economy as promised or wrecking the state’s finances.
Democratic challenger Paul Davis is aggressively wooing disaffected GOP moderates. In the Republican primary, Brownback faces Jennifer Winn, the owner of a Wichita-area building and grounds management company.
“It’s telling that he has to shore up support ahead of the primary,” Dakota Loomis, a spokesman for the Kansas Democratic Party, said of Brownback.
Telephone and email messages sent to Bennett’s firm, seeking comment, were not immediately returned Thursday. Brownback’s campaign declined to comment about the ads.
But Clay Barker, the state GOP’s executive director, said such ads are typically a surprise because groups don’t coordinate with a candidate or party. He said the ad is likely to help Brownback and Republicans all down the ticket because of the party’s strong support for the proposed coal plant and vocal criticism of the EPA.
“I would predict there’s going to be a lot of independent expenditures in Kansas from both sides,” Barker said.
Kansas law doesn’t require the alliance to make any public disclosures of its activities in the state, because its ad does not expressly tell viewers and listeners to vote for or against Brownback. Instead, it urges them to call the EPA to protest its activities and directs them to a website to sign a petition favoring the coal plant.
Tax records available online show that the alliance formed in June 2010 and said its purpose is to “educate the public and policy makers on conservative democratic principles.” Tax records listed Mary Cheney as a director when it formed.
Conservative Republicans in Kansas regularly criticize the EPA. The federal agency’s new greenhouse gas rule sets reduction targets for states, and Kansas’ emissions from power plants would have to drop by 23 percent from 2012 levels by 2030.
Environmentalists have said meeting the target would be far more difficult with the new coal plant, proposed by Sunflower Electric Power Corp. outside Holcomb. Brownback and other supporters argue the plant will create jobs and boost the economy, but critics contend it’s not necessary to meet future electricity needs.
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