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Brownback facing fire on two fronts

Sam Brownback, governor of Kansas, speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview, Aug. 28, 2012.
Sam Brownback, governor of Kansas, speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview, Aug. 28, 2012.
A few years ago, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) and his state's Republican-led legislature pushed through a massive tax cut, which the state clearly couldn't afford. The results aren't pretty: Kansas' bond rating was downgraded yesterday as a result of "a sluggish recovery from the recession, risk inherent in the governor's tax plan and uncertainty over the Legislature's ability to keep cutting spending."
Oliver Willis noted a Businesweek report that explained, "[T]he immediate effect has been to blow a hole in the state's finances without noticeable economic growth."
And as it turns out, that may not be the most serious problem Kansas' far-right governor is dealing with right now.

The F.B.I. is investigating fund-raising and lobbying activities of associates of Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, an inquiry that follows his efforts to consolidate control of the state's Republican Party during his first three and a half years in office. The governor has denied any wrongdoing, but the aggressive tactics by his political team are now casting a shadow on his re-election this fall. Since as early as 2012 and as recently as last month, the F.B.I. has been interviewing former lawmakers and lobbyists in Topeka about whether some of Mr. Brownback's current staff members and former aides-turned-lobbyists acted improperly in soliciting campaign contributions and clients, according to two Kansas Republicans, who refused to be identified because of the continuing inquiry. They said they have been questioned by an F.B.I. agent based in the Kansas capital.

The fact that FBI agents have begun talking to possible witnesses doesn't necessarily mean criminal charges are on the way. For that matter, even if the FBI finds evidence of wrongdoing, there's no way to know at this point whether Team Brownback would be implicated or not.
But as a political matter, it appears the governor is in the middle of a re-election campaign while his political operation faces an FBI inquiry and his tax policies blow up the state's finances.
For those who need a refresher on what the governor's controversy is all about, we summarized the story last week. At issue is a consulting and lobbying firm called Parallel Strategies, created last year by a trio of former Brownback aides who've been accused of alleged influence peddling.
Thanks to their political ties, Parallel Strategies has quickly become a powerful firm in Kansas, assembling a formidable client list that includes, among others, Brownback.
With this in mind, when the governor decided to privatize the state's Medicaid program, it created an opportunity for Parallel Strategies to get to work. After the firm allegedly helped secure "behind-the-scenes financial arrangements" that "handed to three for-profit insurance companies exclusive contracts to provide Medicaid services to 380,000 of Kansas' disabled and poor," it drew the FBI's interest.

Questions center on whether Brownback representatives pressed companies or organizations to hire specific lobbying firms or whether entities that showed inadequate deference were targeted for political or financial punishment. [...] The FBI also has looked into activities of individual legislators and lobbyists unaffiliated with Parallel Strategies.

Over the last four years, Brownback and his team have been accused repeatedly -- by locals in both parties -- of running a ruthless, hardball political operation. Whether that operation crossed any legal lines will become clearer soon enough.