Kansas Statehouse subpoenas, pay-to-play allegations and consultant feud disrupt end of session

TOPEKA — The Kansas Legislature’s flurry of end-of-session votes was cut short by a brutal attempt to oust the executive director of the state’s Ethics Commission over allegations of a paid Medicaid maneuver and the fallout from an unusual lawsuit pitting Republican political consultants against One and the Other.

Action under the dome ahead of the early Saturday adjournment included Republican lawmakers’ surprise attempt to write into state law a requirement that the executive director of the Kansas Government Ethics Commission hold a Kansas license to practice law. The target of their anger was Executive Director Mark Skoglund, the top regulator of lawmakers’ campaign finance who has fallen out of favor among some Republicans.

The past few hours have also been marked by the disclosure that the Ethics Commission has issued subpoenas to GOP lawmakers and political operatives, including the Kansas House, as part of an investigation into the committees of political action related to conservative causes and legislators.

Subpoenas aim to document written exchanges with PACs and individuals, potentially seeking evidence that PACs have coordinated with campaigns. There is a bipartisan fear that the subpoenas are the result of a lawsuit and the bitter end to the long partnership of Singularis Group founders Kristian Van Meteren and Jared Suhn, who specialize in serving Republicans.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman, who did not discuss how many of his GOP colleagues received subpoenas, said the Kansas Constitution made it clear that lawmakers could not be subject to legal process. calendar during the legislative session. In other words, the Ethics Committee had no reason to issue subpoenas to House members while they were performing their official duties.

“There is no way a member can be legally subpoenaed by the Ethics Commission at this time,” Ryckman said.

Lawyers Ryan Kriegshauser and Joshua Ney, who represent Suhn in the dispute with Van Meteren, have accused the ethics commission’s executive director of misrepresenting his legal credentials in a separate campaign finance case involving a mayoral race. in Johnson County.

GOP lawmakers have proposed that legislation be passed requiring the commission’s executive director to have a valid legal license. Ney, who also represents Johnson County residents in hot water with the Ethics Commission, filed a document saying the commission’s director, Skoglund’s legal license expired years ago. At a recent hearing on the Johnson County case, Skoglund did not immediately correct for the record a statement that he had a valid Kansas license.

Senate Speaker Ty Masterson said duty-to-advocate reform was needed because Skoglund had essentially “armed” the regulatory body responsible for enforcing campaign ethics and law. Lawmakers have complained that Skoglund’s work on subpoenas was launched after the legislature declined to take interest in Skoglund’s reform legislation.

“Deeply Concerned”

On Friday, six members of the state ethics commission said in a joint statement the partisan attempt to change the executive director’s terms of employment was motivated by an unwarranted desire to have Skoglund fired.

It’s a partisan move which the commissioners say should be of “deep concern” to Kansans.

We fully support Executive Director Skoglund and strongly oppose this effort to undermine the ggovernment ethics commission,” the commissioners said.

Much remains unknown about the Kansas political storm related to subpoenas, lobbying activities, campaign finance expenses, the ethics commission and the trial.

But the Van Meteren and Suhn dispute offers a glimpse of how conflict can spiral out of control when money, ego and revenge are embroiled in legal and political proceedings.

The lawsuit began when Van Meteren bought out Suhn in 2019 following contentious negotiations. Van Meteren later alleged that Suhn violated a non-compete clause in their agreement. Suhn had created a new company, Game Changer Strategies. Van Meteren insisted that his former business partner recruit clients who had business relationships with Singularis.

Indeed, Suhn’s work for influential clients could leave Van Meteren with a less valuable firm, which has focused on direct mail work for GOP candidates and organizations.

“I will not sign any agreement that does not include absolute non-competition for the company’s graphic design, print, mail and digital business lines and equally absolute non-solicitation for the company’s customers, staff and suppliers,” Van Meteren said in an email to Suhn ahead of the deal.

“I won’t negotiate with someone who continually moves the goal posts and tries to leave 40 windows unlocked so they can come back and steal whatever I buy from them. Only a fool would buy a car and let the seller keep a set of keys,” Van Meteren said.

After leaving Singularis in September 2019, Suhn was hired in October 2019 by the House Republican Campaign Committee to conduct policy consultations in the 2020 election cycle. In 2021, Van Meteren filed suit against Suhn. The case has not yet been decided by the district court.

“Very annoying”

At a House-Senate conference committee meeting, Rep. Vic Miller, D-Topeka, challenged on procedural and political grounds a GOP recommendation to insert into a bill a ban on employing a executive director of the ethics commission without a legal license in good standing. According to the proposal, the person should have had a license for three years from July 1.

Skoglund said his license had been suspended since 2015 because he chose not to complete continuing education requirements. He has held the position since 2017.

Miller said it was against the rules of the Legislative Assembly to include the wording of the executive director’s reform in a House-Senate conference report because the issue had never been properly considered before by the House or the Senate.

He said considering the idea amid reports from lawmakers subpoenaed by the ethics commission made the proposal shady.

“I have been hearing rumors now for almost a month that there are around 30 subpoenas issued to elected members. I find it very unnerving, to say the least,” Miller said. “I will say there are rumours; I have no facts. But there are enough major rumors directly related to the underlying concept of this bill for me to mention them. The moment is badly chosen for a matter of this importance. But I particularly think that this proposal, the timing is bad, given what I’ve heard.

Charge to play

On Thursday and Friday, a sharp-tongued Democrat alleging a sneaky campaign donation scheme to gain ground for controversial Medicaid legislation. The bill would prevent Governor Laura Kelly from renegotiating the $4 billion contract with managed care companies unless she wins re-election in November.

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, opposed a proposal by Sen. Kelli Warren, the Republican nominee for attorney general, to enact into law a ban on reviving the contract until early 2023.

Kelly is seeking re-election, and current Attorney General Derek Schmidt is the presumptive GOP nominee for governor.

Carmichael referenced an FBI investigation into KanCare’s contract decisions nearly 10 years ago under Governor Sam Brownback’s administration. There were then claims that Brownback loyalists engaged in a pay-for-play operation when selecting three contractors for a Medicaid program currently serving around 500,000 elderly, disabled and low-income Kansans. This federal investigation did not result in indictments.

Carmichael suggested that history might repeat itself.

“Unfortunately,” Carmichael said, “the same rumors are circulating today that subpoenas are circulating in this Statehouse. It is a violation of federal law for lobbyists to urge lawmakers to introduce legislation regarding the Medicaid program with campaign pledges.

He said it was implausible that anyone would award the KanCare Companies a $4 billion untendered contract extension unless “someone’s palm gets greased by lobbyists with oil.” money”.

Warren, seated across from Carmichael, did not comment on the rep’s outburst. Rep. Brad Ralph, R-Dodge City, said he was obligated to respond to Carmichael.

“I think it’s incredibly unwise to discuss pay-to-play or talk down people’s motivation, especially in this room,” Ralph said. “Personally, I take offense to that.”

Carmichael wasn’t done. While offering no evidence for his claim, the Democrat said he had circumstantial evidence that pay-to-play was conducted at “a higher level” than lawmakers. He said members of the House and Senate were being used as “pawns”.

“You shouldn’t expect a retraction from this rep,” Carmichael said.

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