Elections

Democrats run ad with dubious claim about Jeff Longwell

The Kansas Democratic Party sent out a mailer over the weekend advocating for state Rep. Brandon Whipple and slamming his opponent, Mayor Jeff Longwell with a statement that appears to be untrue.

This is the second mailer to come from a political party in the past week involving Wichita’s mayoral race, a race that’s usually a nonpartisan affair.

Last week, the Sedgwick County Republican Party urged voters to “re-elect Republican Mayor Jeff Longwell,” making no mention of Whipple or fellow Republican Lyndy Wells, who started a last-minute write-in campaign.

The Democrat mailer calls Whipple “Wichita’s clear choice to restore trust” and calls Mayor Jeff Longwell “the choice of Wichita’s good ol’ boy network.”

The advertisement labels Whipple’s opponent as “Mayor ‘Kickback’ Longwell,” pointing to recent headlines related to his actions on Wichita’s water treatment plant project and unreported gifts discovered during an investigation by the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office.

It also includes what appears to be a false statement about Longwell. The ad claims Longwell is “under investigation for corruption.”

Longwell flatly denied the new allegation contained in the Democrat mailer.

“I am not under investigation for corruption and never have been,” Longwell said in an email.

“Never have we seen a campaign get so slimy,” he added.

Vicki Hiatt, chair of the Kansas Democratic Party, would not say if she knew about a different investigation of Longwell or if the mailer mischaracterized an investigation into his statements of substantial interest forms and gifts he received from companies designing and building the water treatment plant.

“I’m not really at liberty to share,” Hiatt said.

The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office confirmed that its investigation of Longwell was not looking into corruption.

“The only investigation undertaken by the Office of the District Attorney was the question regarding the substantial interest form,” District Attorney Marc Bennett wrote in an email. “That investigation ended and conclusions were set forth in the 20-page report issued Oct. 17, 2019.”

Bennett decided not to file misdemeanor charges against Longwell for failing to report gifts above $500 in value he received in 2016 from Professional Engineering Consultants. His conclusions included no mention of corruption.

Russell Fox, a professor of political science at Friends University, said the mailer is “the harshest thing” to come out of either party during this election cycle, but it’s not entirely out of left field.

“It’s not saying anything new,” Fox said. “Whipple’s people and Lyndy Wells’ people and other people — they’ve been saying these exact things. But with this (mailer), it’s actually sharpened in a way that we haven’t seen.”

“(The mailer) is not as negative as the stuff that has been run anonymously against Brandon Whipple, and we don’t know really where that came from,” Fox said.

Fox has made two contributions to Whipple’s campaign of $50 and $52.23, according to campaign filings released late Monday.

Whipple has been targeted by two seemingly-separate campaigns with undisclosed funding sources.

One is being bankrolled by a shadowy limited liability company in New Mexico. That LLC was created Oct. 10 to launch the political attack from behind the shield of New Mexico law, which doesn’t require owners of closely held companies to identify themselves.

Another dark-money group, “Partnership for Community Education,” sent mailers rehashing the 2017 reporting in the Wichita State student newspaper about Whipple asking student interns to be designated drivers for legislators. The mailers sent by that group trace to a bulk mailing company near Kansas City. No other identifying information could be found for Partnership for Community Education.

Longwell and Wells have said they are not involved with the anonymous campaigns against Whipple.

Hiatt, party chair for the Kansas Democratic Party, said the mailer was at least partially motivated by the dark money campaigns against Whipple.

“Given the circumstances surrounding the incumbent, we really just wanted what’s best for the city of Wichita,” Hiatt said. “Our mailer is not promoting a slate of candidates and it’s not promoting voting for particular parties. It’s just asking voters to pick the best candidate.”

Contributing: Dion Lefler of The Wichita Eagle
Chance Swaim won the Betty Gage Holland Award in 2018 for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and cswaim@wichitaeagle.com.
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