TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A lobbyist who was once Gov. Sam Brownback’s chief of staff continues to have influence with the governor and his administration, according to emails obtained by The Wichita Eagle.
The emails show David Kensinger was consulted on matters such as when the governor planned a trade mission to China and a bill seeking state control over federal health care funds, according to documents The Eagle received this month through an open records request.
Rep. John Carmichael, a Democrat from Wichita, said Kensinger’s apparent influence is a concern.
“You then have to wonder who is running the governor’s office — the governor, an elected official, and his Cabinet secretaries, or is it an outside lobbyist who’s really pulling the strings in state government?” he said.
The Eagle said Kensinger, who is a lobbyist for Kansas City Power & Light, Reynolds American and other organizations, did not respond to numerous requests for an interview. He did not return a phone call from The Associated Press on Thursday.
Brownback said in October he rarely talks to Kensinger about policy.
“As we have said before, the Governor consults with a wide range of people to hear diverse opinions on issues and topics,” Eileen Hawley, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in an email to the newspaper this week.
Before the emails were released, Brownback’s chief counsel made redactions and withheld some, citing exemptions to the state’s open records law. The governor’s office would not say how many records it withheld.
Lyndon Vix, The Eagle’s attorney, said one exemption “really implies these emails include policy discussions with Kensinger.” And Max Kautsch, a Lawrence attorney who writes a blog on First Amendment issues, said one exemption suggests Kensinger is “involved at a level that is very integral in the policy-making process.”
Kautsch said citing an exemption that covers “personnel records, performance ratings or individually identifiable records pertaining to employees or applicants for employment,” could suggest Kensinger has some influence on appointments by the governor.
“I mean, that’s the only conclusion I can draw. He’s chiming in and Brownback’s asking for his advice on who to appoint,” Kautsch said. “At least he’s being cc’d on who’s in the works as far as hire and fire. That would imply to me that he has an inordinate amount of sway for a nonstaff person.”
The governor’s office also used an exemption that covers “correspondence between a public agency and a private individual.” Both lawyers said the exemption is so broad the emails could be about anything.
“It’s broad enough to encompass virtually all communications with private citizens,” Vix said.
Democrats have repeatedly criticized the Brownback administration for Kensinger’s perceived influence.
“There is no question in my mind that he is the de-facto chief of staff and that he has a great deal of influence over what the governor does and where the governor goes,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.
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