WICHITA, Kan. — The divisive Republican primary fight for the U.S. House seat in south-central Kansas has heated up a notch with the filing of a complaint at the Federal Election Commission alleging unlawful coordination between the campaign of former congressman Todd Tiahrt and the "super PAC" founded by a Wichita oilman who is supporting him.
On Thursday, Robert Noland, campaign manager for Tiahrt, said the collusion never happened and called the allegations "garbage."
"This is a politically motivated attack and the bottom line is: There is not now, nor there has been, any coordination occurring between the Tiahrt campaign and any third party groups," he said.
Tiahrt is challenging U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo in the GOP 4th District primary. Tiahrt held the office for 16 years, but did not seek re-election in 2010 to run for the U.S. Senate. He lost in the Republican primary to Jerry Moran, who went on to win the Senate seat. Tiahrt is now citing the dysfunction in Congress in a bid to reclaim his old seat.
His campaign is getting support from Kansans for Responsible Government, a super PAC that's free from campaign contribution limits. It was formed by Kansas oilman Willis "Wink" Hartman, whom Pompeo defeated in 2010 in the GOP primary for the then-open 4th District seat.
Jane Deterding, chairman of the board for Citizens Bank of Kansas and a longtime Pompeo ally, filed an FEC complaint late last month against Tiahrt's campaign and Kansans for Responsible Government.
Deterding told The Associated Press on Thursday that she called Pompeo's campaign and talked to someone on his staff there to get some of the details used in the filing.
"Ms. Deterding is a private citizen who asked us for some details that were relevant for her complaint. We had nothing to do with its filing," Jim Richardson, campaign manager for Pompeo, said in an email. "However, the facts of the complaint, which are not accusations but verifiable facts, have not been disputed by the Tiahrt campaign. We have been aware of this coordination between Mr. Hartman and Mr. Tiahrt for some time and are glad it's finally coming to light."
Hartman did not return a phone message left at his office.
Tiahrt acknowledged in an interview with the AP before the FEC complaint was filed that he sees Hartman socially. Tiahrt also said Hartman sponsored a fundraiser for him, but insisted he has not talked to Hartman about the PAC. "I have no idea what he is doing," Tiahrt said.
The complaint alleges that within days of Tiahrt announcing his candidacy, the PAC disclosed payments of more than $15,000 to produce and advertise in support of Tiahrt. Radio ads started running almost immediately thereafter, suggesting they had been created and purchased ahead of the announcement, according to the complaint. The PAC's commercials echo the issues raised by the Tiahrt campaign.
Noland declined to specifically address the allegations.
"There has been no coordination so we don't feel like we have to explain ourselves," Noland said. "There is nothing there."