Holscher campaign leads local statehouse fundraising with $79K in bid for Denning’s senate seat

Rep. Cindy Holscher is running for Sen. Jim Denning’s seat in the upper chamber. Her campaign has raised $79,000, more than any other local candidate running for the statehouse.

Johnson County Democrats have wasted no time raising money in their bids for the Kansas statehouse. A look at campaign finance reports shows the highest money raisers in the area so far have all been Democrats, with Cindy Holscher leading the way at just over $79,000 for the period covering 2019.

In fact three Democrats running for state Senate have already raised more than $50,000 each. “I’m not sure that’s ever happened this early before,” said county Democratic chair Nancy Leiker, adding that this looks like it could be a big fundraising year.

Democratic House candidates from Johnson County are also getting off to an early start. The biggest fundraiser there was Brandon Woodard, with $33,728 in contributions last year, followed by Brett Parker with $31,248. Neither of those two incumbents have official challengers yet.

Homebuilder Tom Bickimer, who is seeking Sen. Dinah Sykes’ seat, was the fundraising leader among Republicans. Submitted photo.

By comparison, the highest contribution total among Johnson County Republican candidates for the Senate was Tom Bickimer with $35,050 and the highest Republican House fundraiser for the period was District 20 incumbent Jan Kessinger with $18,640. However, Kessinger’s Democratic challenger Mari-Lynn Poskin reported a higher fundraising total, taking in $21,519. (Poskin’s total included a $1,500 personal loan to the campaign).

The campaign reports filed by the Jan. 10 deadline provide a first look at activity and interest in the statehouse races. For the purposes of this story, the Post looked at Senate districts 6, 7, 8, 10, 11 and 21 and House districts 14, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 29 and 30. In-kind contributions are not included.

The reports on file don’t necessarily cover everyone who may end up running for office in those districts. The filing deadline is not until June 1. Candidates begin filing financial reports after they name a treasurer and begin accepting contributions. So some candidates who have announced their intentions may not have any reports on file. Former meteorologist Mike Thompson, who has announced intentions to run for Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook’s seat, is an example of that. The next set of reports is due July 27.

Democratic senate candidates outpacing Republican candidates in fundraising

Not surprisingly, the most intense fundraising belongs to the Senate candidates, who have four-year terms. In Kansas, all the Senate districts are up for election the same year.

Holscher, who represents the 16th House district, is running for the Senate spot now held by Jim Denning, the Senate majority leader. So far Holscher has raised more than twice as much as Denning, who reported $30,975 in contributions for the same period.

That doesn’t mean a comfortable money lead for Holscher, though. As an incumbent, Denning had $56,250 on hand from prior years, while Holscher started at zero. When the candidates’ expenses are subtracted, Denning has $13,700 more in the bank than Holscher.

Former Kansas Democratic Party Executive Director Ethan Corson is running for the Senate District 7 seat. He’s raised more than $73,000 for the campaign. Submitted photo.

Things are still settling in the 7th Senate district, which has been held by Democrat Barbara Bollier. State Rep. Stephanie Clayton had announced intentions to seek the Democratic nomination for that spot, but later withdrew to avoid a primary contest. Democrat Ethan Corson is still in the race, though, and has raised $73,954 so far.

That district showed one of the larger gaps between candidates in fundraising. Former Mission Mayor Laura McConwell has filed for the Republican challenger’s spot, but has so far only reported $1,350 in contributions.

Candidates who raise money for one race and then withdraw are prohibited by law from rolling those contributions over into a different race. So Clayton, for instance, can’t use the $13,733 she raised as a Senate candidate to help with re-election to her House district.

Rep. Tom Cox is in a similar position. Cox, a Republican, reported raising $5,150 for re-election to House District 17 but will not be able to put it toward his Senate race. He’s reported $27,136 in contributions for the Senate campaign, while his Democratic opponent Lindsey Constance reported raising $60,000. Both are running to replace former Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, who resigned her seat early.

The unknown in that race is Mike Thompson, who was elected by county Republicans in his district to finish the remainder of Pilcher-Cook’s term. Thompson has not yet filed any campaign finance reports.

In the 11th Senate district, Democrat Joy Koesten is not among the highest fundraisers but has so far outmatched incumbent Republican John Skubal for contributions in the time period. Koesten reported $38,091 to Skubal’s $24,630. However Skubal had $17,836 on hand to start, while Koesten, as a newcomer, had zero.

In the 21st Senate district, homebuilder Tom Bickimer has raised slightly more than incumbent Sen. Dinah Sykes, with $35,050 to her $33,907. However Sykes started off with $9,263 in her campaign fund and thus has more cash on hand.

House candidates raised lower amounts over the time period, with the highest being incumbent Rep. Brandon Woodard, a Democrat, with $33,728. The other top fundraisers, incumbent Reps. Brett Parker ($31,248) and Rui Xu (21,599) are also Democrats. Most of those races don’t yet have candidates listed for both parties.

County GOP chair Dave Myres offered a brief comment on fundraising efforts so far. Activity in down-ballot races is to be expected in presidential election year, he said, adding, “Any race without an actual incumbent can draw more attention.”

Leiker attributed the Democratic fundraising success to hard work. “All of our candidates are determined and energetic. They are focused on issues like medicaid expansion, school finance and a woman’s right to choose her own health care.”

Editor’s note: Upon initial publication, this story failed to mention the fundraising totals for House District 20 candidate Mari-Lynn Poskin. They have been included in the updated version of the story.