Americans for Prosperity urges attorney general to investigate Kansas open record requests

KORA dispute centers on commerce secretary’s emails on STAR bond program

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — A conservative political organization wants the Kansas attorney general to investigate the state Department of Commerce’s response to record requests with an emphasis on the alleged failure to promptly and fully disclose information about a category of business tax incentives.

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation of Kansas submitted a request in 2021 under the Kansas Open Records Act for a trove of Department of Commerce documents, communications and reports regarding STAR bonds. State Tax and Revenue bond financing is available to municipalities for commercial, entertainment and tourism projects.

State law requires bonds for these economic development projects to be repaid by a city or county with the increase in sales tax revenue collected in the associated STAR bond business district. Once STAR bond debt has been eliminated, the full amount of sales taxes in the district goes to state and local governments.

The foundation, which also invested in a legal fight before the U.S. Supreme Court to limit disclosure of donor information to nonprofits, received from the commerce department a portion of requested internal or external studies or reports, feasibility studies and emails associated with STAR bonds.

The Department of Commerce has not yet released emails tied to David Toland, the commerce secretary and lieutenant governor to Gov. Laura Kelly. The state commerce secretary has direct control over issuance of STAR bonds.

“It shouldn’t take more than a year to access public records from a state agency running a corporate welfare program with over $1 billion worth of bonds,” said Elizabeth Patton, the state director of Americans for Prosperity Foundation in Kansas. “If commerce is slow-walking KORA request responses because of perceived political sensitivities, it should be held accountable.”

‘Voluminous documents’

Patrick Lowry, spokesman for the Department of Commerce, said the original KORA request from the Americans for Prosperity organization in November 2021 sought “voluminous documents,” including every internal and external report dealing with STAR bonds from 2007 to present.

The request sought every STAR bond feasibility study during the 15-year period. Finally, the request asked for all emails regarding STAR bonds from Jan. 1, 2021, to Sept. 1, 2021, sent or received by the commerce department’s secretary, chief of staff and chief counsel.

“The commerce legal team, as well as clerical and IT staff, have spent an inordinate amount of time over the past 12 months working to fulfill this request,” Lowry said. “We have been in regular contact with the requestor, updating them of our progress.”

During the past year, he said, the commerce department reviewed tens of thousands of pages and examined tens of thousands of emails. Potentially relevant items were identified, scanned, sorted, printed and reviewed prior to analysis to determine which ones would be disclosed.

Lowry said 1,500 pages of information was delivered to the Americans for Prosperity Foundation in separate batches on Feb. 7, March 4 and April 29. The final bundle of approximately 1,000 documents was under review and would be delivered as soon as practical, he said.

He said work on the KORA request occurred at the same time the commerce department was advancing economic development projects. The list included work on the $4 billion Panasonic Energy electric vehicle battery manufacturing facility, which is the largest economic development project in state history, and 275 business agreements with companies that created or retained 13,500 jobs in Kansas.

Kevin Schmidt, director of investigations for the Texas-headquartered Americans for Prosperity Foundation, said the Department of Commerce sent the organization a dozen letters noting extensions of time needed to comply with the KORA request. He said those communications fell short of outlining in detail the necessity for delay.

“Why are we waiting so long for those records?” Schmidt said.

STAR bond audit

The Legislature authorized use of sales tax revenue for STAR bonds in 1993. In 2021, a report by the auditing division of the Kansas Legislature said an evaluation of 16 STAR bond projects supporting museums, racetracks and other attractions found only three projects fulfilled the Department of Commerce’s primary objective of elevating tourism among long-distance and out-of-state visitors.

The state has approved more than $1.1 billion in STAR bonds, including the successful mega-development at Village West in Wyandotte County. Supporters of STAR bonds have pointed to the shopping, entertainment and sports complex as the high-water mark of the bonding program.

In a separate review of STAR bond viability by the Legislature’s auditors, analysts considered how long it might take for the state to recoup sales tax revenue surrendered to support economic development projects. Auditors selected the Hutchinson salt mine, the Overland Park Prairie Fire Museum and the Wichita Sports Forum to test how those projects measured up to state’s opportunity cost of investing tax revenue in STAR bonds.

State taxpayers could expect to be made whole on the Hutchinson development after 2057, auditors said. The estimate was more promising for Prairie Fire, because sales tax revenue could pay off bonds after 2046. The sports forum might get there by 2030.

Patton, of the Kansas organization of Americans for Prosperity, said the STAR bond program was of public interest because it involved government picking business “winners and losers.” Government investments such as STAR bonds “incentivize unproductive behaviors of politicians and businesses who prioritize their gains over the true needs of those they serve,” she said.

“Between citizens’ eroded faith in the system and documented failures of the program, we think hardworking Kansans and their families deserve to know whether their tax dollars are being wasted on the program,” Patton said.

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Black Friday shopping at Legends Outlets starts at 9 a.m. Nov. 25

The Legends Outlets is planning Black Friday shopping at 9 a.m. Friday, Nov. 25, for all-day shopping, holiday events and savings at nearly 75 designer and brand-name stores.

According to a spokesman for The Legends Outlets, the center will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24.

The shopping center will be giving away $2,000 in Legends Outlets gift cards on Friday, Nov. 25, to Black Friday shoppers, according to the spokesman.

Win giveaways

On Friday, Nov. 25, and Saturday, Nov. 26, shoppers at the Legends Outlets may text the word “holidaycheer” to Legends Outlets’ mobile VIP line at 877-321-2951, for a chance to win a Legends $100 gift card.

One winner will be notified each hour via text message, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. Winners must claim their prizes the same day at the Legends Outlets at the security window of the parking garage.


Other activities will include photo stations with Santa’s Sleigh, with the “I Love to Shop LED” and “Merry Christmas Ya Filthy Animal” LED sign.

A holiday movie will be shown at the Legends Lawn, and also, Santa’s mailbox will be available.

Black Friday shopping will be from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 25. Nearly 75 outlet stores will be participating.

A list of Black Friday sales and promotions at the Legends Outlets is at Look for steep discounts at some stores.

  • Information from Legends Outlets

Statewide virtual job fair set for Wednesday

Gov. Laura Kelly has invited job-seekers and employers to participate in the upcoming Statewide Virtual Job Fair, hosted by KansasWorks, from 8 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16, to 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17.

“Every day businesses are moving to and growing in Kansas, but to succeed long-term, they need talented employees,” Gov. Laura Kelly said. “I encourage Kansans to take advantage of the resources KansasWorks offers for job-seekers and sign up to attend this virtual job fair.”

Registration is required in order to participate in the event, regardless of previous participation. The Virtual Statewide Job Fair portal features a Job Seeker Training video, a list of participating employers, and channels for attendees to register and log in.

“We have KansasWorks workforce centers in 27 cities across Kansas,” Lt. Gov. and Secretary of Commerce David Toland said. “These centers are ready and available to assist job-seekers with the necessary tools to finding employment with companies that are ready to hire.”

Workforce development teams are dedicated to providing assistance with the job search process, creating effective resumes, job training, job placement and more, according to a spokesman. Job-seekers are encouraged to dress professionally, as employers might request to engage in a video interview on the spot.

Candidates can participate via any digital device. Any individual with a disability may request accommodations by contacting their nearest workforce center at 877-509-6757 prior to the event.

Go to to register for the Virtual Job Fair.