TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s campaign approached a Westar Energy official for a campaign debt donation while the utility is in the process of seeking a rate increase, a newspaper reported.
Documents obtained by The Topeka Capital-Journal show a Brownback campaign official contacted Mark Schreiber, Westar’s government affairs vice president, more than a week ago looking for help retiring debt from the governor’s re-election campaign last year.
The Brownback campaign has been approaching donors for help paying down campaign debt and legal fees. The campaign’s most recent finance report, which was filed in January, showed it had $300,000 in residual loan debt, with $200,000 owed to Brownback and $100,000 to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer.
The contact with Schreiber takes place as Westar is requesting a $152 million rate increase from the Kansas Corporation Commission to pay for environmental upgrades, repairs at the company’s nuclear plant and reductions in storm-related outages.
The KCC, which is made up of three commissioners who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, is set to rule this fall on the request from Westar, which is based in Topeka and has about 700,000 customers. If the request is approved, residential customers would see a 12.1 percent increase.
When asked about the campaign’s decision to approach the Westar official, Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said Brownback’s office “does not influence the operations or decision-making process of the Kansas Corporation Commission, which is an independent commission.”
Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig acknowledged that Schreiber received the Brownback campaign request, which was referred to the Westar Employees’ Political Action Committee. Westar has since 2003 prohibited direct corporate donations to political candidates after the company and executives faced fines stemming from Congressional donations in the 2002 election cycle.
“Our PAC board has not met to make a decision on that yet,” Penzig said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, criticized the Brownback campaign’s decision to approach Schreiber and suggested it withdraw its request.
“What the Brownback campaign has done to ask for money from Mark Schreiber while Westar is under this rate case, if not unethical, is highly questionable,” Hensley said.
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