The Kansas Chamber of Commerce's hardline stance on taxes and regulation continues to turn off even dedicated Republicans.
Creeped out by the ferocity with which the Kansas Chamber holds its right-wing positions, Kansas City's largest construction company, J.E. Dunn Construction, has left the group. Dunn Executive V.P. Bill Dunn Jr., who gives money to Republicans, told The Topeka Capital-Journal the chamber had become "too harsh" with anyone who did not march in lockstep.
The Dunns are following the lead of local chambers of commerce, whose leaders think the state chamber has gone off the deep end. When the Legislature was in session, 14 chambers released a letter indicating that they were open to the idea of tax increase as a means of dealing with the state's mess of a budget. The Kansas Chamber's only solution was "Cut, cut, cut."
The Legislature balanced the budget with the help of a 1-percent sales tax. The Kansas Chamber responded by targeting lawmakers who voted for the budget plan. One of them was state Rep. Don Hill, an Emporia Republican and a former member of the chamber's board of directors. "The chamber has lost its credibility," Hill, who survived his primary challenge, told the Capital-Journal.
Those who feel the Kansas Chamber has become too strident accuse the organization of falling under the sway of Charles and David Koch, the fabulously rich Wichita industrialists who bankroll Americans for Prosperity and other far-right groups. Kent Beisner, the Kansas Chamber's president and CEO, says Koch Industries has "the same amount of influence as any other board member."
Hmm, let's see. Koch Industries is the second largest private company in the U.S., and it's run by two lifelong libertarians who have spent significant pieces of their fortunes promoting their views. Sure, Kent, the Koch rep on the Kansas Chamber board has precisely the same amount of pull as the guy from Hy-Vee supermarket chain.