Parts 1 and 2 of this investigative series disputed the Topeka Capital-Journal’s misleading conflict of interest allegations against Senator Julia Lynn (R-Olathe) and also refuted subsequent media pile-on efforts. This installment examines possible motivations for the attacks, including partisan politics and alleged retaliation for opposing the nomination of Commerce Secretary David Toland.
The same day that the Topeka Capital-Journal published its first attack on Senator Lynn, someone who goes by the handle “Activist” also rewrote the Wikipedia pages for Senators Mary-Cook Pilcher, Molly Baumgardner, and Julia Lynn. ‘Activist’ also edited Democrat David Toland’s Wikipedia page, giving the appearance that he’d been unfairly challenged by the three Republican women senators.
Senator Lynn’s Wikipedia page was edited to include this paragraph:
“After Governor Laura Kelly took office, Lynn tried to squelch audits of those contracts. Some work had gone to Allied Global Services (AGS) and Lynn was working for a division of AGS, Inclusion Works. She denied having any conflict of interest in that relationship, a position with which both Republican and Democratic legislators disagreed. Upon audits, considerable problems were found with the contractors.”
The paragraph is rife with factual errors. The committee meeting where the audit was discussed took place in January 2018; Laura Kelly wasn’t Governor then, she was a senator and participated in the audit discussion as a member of the committee. Audio of the meeting also shows Lynn did not “squelch” the audits and in fact, there were no audits, let alone ones that ‘found considerable problems;’ Senator Lynn and four other committee members recommended that matter be referred to the Attorney General for investigation. Former Commerce Secretary Antonio Soave had given consulting contracts to his former college roommate and other friends, but the AG’s investigation didn’t result in any criminal charges. Media coverage of Soave’s contract awards to friends and business partners list several names, but Allied was not among those mentioned.
Molly Baumgardner told The Sentinel she does not believe all of this suddenly just happened.
“What we saw in the newspaper and media with an attack on Senator Julia Lynn, that was no coincidence. These changes occurring now on social media, that’s not a coincidence,” said Baumgardner.
Baumgardner’s bio has a whole section from the Julia Lynn Wikipedia page regarding the now-discredited conflict of interest claim.
Activist’s contribution page shows the user has rewritten a number of biographies of prominent Kansas GOP stakeholders, including Derek Schmidt, Tracey Mann, and Wink Hartman. A glance at the history of edits shows the user re-edits the bios to show the Republican members in a negative light and Democrats in a positive light. Activist also rewrote David Toland’s biography to be more positive minutes after including the factual errors in Lynn’s.
Confirmation Hearing Motivations
The reference to Toland’s confirmation hearing brings front and center a key issue regarding alleged retaliation claims. Lynn has been anticipating some sort of blowback since Toland’s confirmation hearing.
“I knew it was coming, the only question was when. And I didn’t know what they were going to use,” says Lynn.
What Lynn finds surprising is the active disinformation campaign that involved rewriting biographies of three female GOP lawmakers who voted against Toland in the confirmation hearing. Lynn also notes that none of the men who voted against Toland have had their pages changed.
“If we want people in business to move to this state and there are political attempts to portray politicians, in this case, three women duly elected by their district, portray them in such a way that is not only false, but it is frightening.”
Baumgardner’s page was rewritten to include a section about the confirmation of Commerce Secretary David Toland and an alleged attack on Toland by an anti-abortion activist. But Baumgardner says the funding that Thrive Allen County received from the George Tiller Fund was never a line of questioning in the confirmation hearing.
“It was very interesting the way it was portrayed, particularly because, you know, the issue of Thrive Allen County receiving funding from the George Tiller Foundation, that did not come up in the Commerce hearings. That was not a discussion point in the hearings. That was a point made by a Senator not on the committee when we were in our Republican caucus.”
Baumgardner does not feel the attack on Lynn and then the change of all three female senators’ Wikipedia pages is a coincidence.
“What we saw in the newspaper and media with an attack on Senator Julia Lynn, that was no coincidence. These changes occurring now on social media, that’s not a coincidence.”
Concern over alleged retaliation by David Toland
Throughout Toland’s confirmation hearing, Senators Julia Lynn and Molly Baumgardner received complaints from people in Allen County expressing concerns over Toland’s nomination.
“It was interesting because if I was to go back and look at the correspondence I received for a nominee for an agency position. One of the things that folks said in their correspondence that did not support the nomination was that ‘be very careful he is very vindictive,’” said Baumgardner.
Senator Baumgardner raised that concern with Toland in the confirmation hearing.
“Part of the concern I have is letters and phone calls where folks in your community are concerned with what they will have to face if you are not appointed,” Baumgardner said. “What will be your retaliation against them?”
The Sentinel spoke with a number of people with claims of retaliatory and threatening behavior toward them by Toland or those associated with him but no one was willing to go on the record or let their names be used out of fear of retaliation.
Several other transparency concerns and conflicts of interest questions surround Toland’s work in Allen County prior to joining Commerce.
Transparency issues at Commerce Department
Given the Kelly administration’s call for transparency, one might expect the Commerce Department to lead by example – and also expect media to test their accountability. But the Cap-Journal and other media outlets continue to ignore obvious transparency issues.
Commerce Department officials still have not said whether their $800,000 contract with McKinsey & Company was put out for bid, despite an Open Records request submitted by The Sentinel. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Kelly administration said, “A steering committee of grassroots economic development professionals and business leaders were selected to work with state officials to guide the planning and development process” on the McKinsey contract.” But in response to another Open Records request from The Sentinel, Commerce officials admitted committee members are either government employees or work for non-profits that are financed largely by government. Seven of the ten members of the steering committee are Commerce department employees; six of them work under Secretary of Commerce David Toland who ordered the economic development plan and Toland is also on the steering committee. No business leaders were appointed.
Toland gave one steering committee seat to Abby Works, the daughter of a former Allen County Commissioner. Works is an Iola native and according to her Linkedin page, is a recent college graduate with a Master’s Degree in European studies; her thesis topic was Sanctuary Cities: An Instrument of Change. Works is Toland’s special assistant at the Department of Commerce.
Lynn ‘coincidentally’ gets an opponent
The day after the Topeka Capital-Journal published its initial claim, the Sunflower Journal reported a Democratic opponent is expected to announce a run against Lynn. The timing raises questions of who else knew the Cap-Journal’s article was being published.
A target on their backs
The disinformation campaign against those who question Governor Kelly and her administration makes Baumgardner believe she is next.
“They went after Julia, now Senator Pilcher-Cook and I are in the crosshairs,” said Baumgardner.”