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Koch-Funded Group Won’t Back Kansas Republicans Who Supported Clean Energy

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"Koch-Funded Group Won’t Back Kansas Republicans Who Supported Clean Energy"

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CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

A Republican state legislator in Kansas is being targeted by a new Koch-funded effort to oust those who want to support Kansas’ wind industry.

Last week, Kansas State Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) failed to obtain the Kansas Chamber of Commerce political action committee endorsement. In a surprisingly frank and revealing email to his supporters, Schwab claims that his position on the proposed weakening of Kansas’ renewable energy portfolio standard and a dispute with lobbyists for Koch Industries Inc. cost him the Chamber PAC’s support. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce is the state’s leading business lobbying group and is funded by petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch.

In his email Schwab recounts his experience serving on the Kansas House Committee on Energy and Environment as the panel considered a bill in 2013 that would have weakened the state’s renewable energy portfolio (RPS). According to Schwab, many businesses in areas with wind farms and wind-related jobs testified against the bill, while the only groups speaking out in support of the bill were out of state think tanks. After the committee hearing, Schwab says that Koch lobbyist Jonathan Small informed him Koch Industries was pushing the bill.

“I told him if he wanted me to vote for the bill, then we needed some Kansas businesses to advocate it,” Schwab wrote in his email. “Because right now it looked as an anti-business vote.” Schwab wrote that Small told him that it was just Koch Industries supporting the move. When Schwab told Small that Koch should testify, Small said that if they did that, people would not like them.

“My response was that people don’t like them anyway, so just be honest,” wrote Schwab.

In the end, Schwab said he supported the bill and sent it from the committee to the House floor.

But when Schwab ran into Koch lobbyists at an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting in Topeka later that year, he says the lobbyist thought he had opposed the bill and lashed out against him. Schwab has not voted in support of repeals of the state’s RPS since.

There have been multiple Koch-backed attempts to weaken the RPS in Kansas.

Last month, the Kansas House of Representatives voted 63-60 to defeat the bill that would have weakened the state’s renewable energy standard, which requires that utilities get 20 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2020. The defeated bill would have frozen progress at 15 percent in 2016. By 2021 the RPS would have been scheduled to sunset.

In March, a bipartisan group of Kansas state representatives rejected an RPS repeal bill that the Senate approved, and in 2013, both the Kansas Senate and House rejected legislative efforts to roll back and delay the RPS.

Schwab is a five-term House Representative, who ran for Congress in 2006. In August he will face John Wilson, a former Libertarian now running as a Republican in the Aug. 5 GOP primary. Wilson has said he would have voted to repeal the RPS.

Schwab is not the only GOP candidate in Kansas to have key support from the Chamber of Commerce withdrawn because of a position on renewable energy.

According to the Lawrence Journal-World, Rep. Russ Jennings of Lakin, Rep Tom Sloan of Lawrence and Rep. Kent Thompson of Iola are all Republican incumbents being targeted for refusing to vote against renewable energy.

On Monday, Politico reported that the Koch brothers are launching a new super PAC, called Freedom Partners Action Fund that will spend $15 million in this year’s midterm elections. Unlike other Koch-funded groups, this PAC will focus on supporting particular GOP candidates.

“The Freedom Partners Action Fund will support candidates who share our vision of free markets and a free society and oppose candidates who support intrusive government policies that push the American Dream out of reach for the American people,” Marc Short, president of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce told Politico.

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