The top contender to lead Kansas Democrats is under fire over campaign spending, resume
Jeanna Repass has endorsements from top Democrats to lead the state party, but a former campaign manager claims Repass canceled her last paycheck.
A candidate endorsed by top Kansas Democrats to lead the state party faces allegations that she failed to pay the campaign manager of her bid for statewide office last year, has exaggerated her credentials and that she spent political donations in unconventional ways.
A small claims court filing in Johnson County accuses Jeanna Repass, who ran unsuccessfully in the general election for Kansas Secretary of State, of canceling the final paycheck to her campaign manager. Nicole Aghaaliandastjerdi ran the campaign from June 16 to August 25.
Aghaaliandastjerdi, a Kentucky-based consultant, seeks $4,000.
Aghaaliandastjerdi said that Repass inspired her to join the campaign, but that she later soured on the experience and resigned.
“She’s not in it for other people,” Aghaaliandastjerdi said in an interview. “She's in it for herself. And that was very concerning to me.”
In a statement, Repass said Aghaaliandastjerdi received payment for her services until she left the campaign.
“I do not believe her claim has any merit,” Repass said.
Aghaaliandastjerdi said Kansas Democrats should not elect Repass as party chair.
“She said to me directly that if the Democratic Party did not support her, the next time they saw her run, she would have an R behind her name,” Aghaaliandastjerdi said. “And that is not someone that I believe should be the head of the Democratic Party.”
Repass denied making the comment.
“I am a lifelong Democrat and have never said that I would run for office under a different party,” Repass said.
Aghaaliandastjerdi filed the claim days before the Kansas Democratic Party will meet to choose its next party chair, a contest between Repass and former Kansas Treasurer Lynn Rogers.
Democrats Rep. Sharice Davids Gov. Laura Kelly, Kansas House Minority Leader Vic Miller and Kansas Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes all endorsed Repass on Wednesday.
“Each of us had the opportunity to get to know Jeanna’s leadership style, and her strengths make her the right leader for this moment,” they wrote in their endorsement letter.
Other questions surfaced about Repass in the days leading up to the party chair election on Saturday.
A candidate questionnaire in the University Daily Kansan, the student newspaper at the University of Kansas, quotes Repass saying she graduated from Midland University, a university in Fremont, Nebraska, with degrees in pre-med and biology. Repass’s LinkedIn profile lists a bachelor’s of science degree in biology from Midland in 1994, and a 2003 marriage engagement announcement in the Fremont Tribune said Repass graduated from the university.
An employee in the Midland registrar’s office told KCUR that university records show that Repass attended classes there for four years but turned up no record that she earned a degree.
“While I attended Midland Lutheran College and Dana Lutheran College for four years, I did not graduate with a degree,” Repass said in a statement. “My LinkedIn only reflects that attendance.”
Repass won the Democratic nomination in the August primary and lost to Republican incumbent Scott Schwab by a nearly 20-percentage-point margin.
Campaign finance reports list most of the expenditures during Repass’s campaign for travel-related costs — hotels, meals and gas — and to consultants. Aside from a $575 payment to the Record News in Basehor, Kansas, on June 16, campaign finance reports do not reflect common campaign-related expenditures like advertising, polling, mailings and yard signs.
Patrick Miller, a political science professor at the University of Kansas, reviewed Repass’s campaign finance reports. He said the campaign seemed to forego most forms of advertising and opted instead for a “get-the-candidate-out-around-the-state” strategy.
That’s how Repass described the campaign strategy.
“Having joined the race for Secretary of State very late in the campaign cycle, I am proud to have raised the funds that we did, many from small dollar donations,” Repass said. “As a statewide candidate, much of my expenses were travel as I directly brought my message to the people of Kansas.”
Campaign finance reports showed Repass spending $56,741 between July 22 and October 27. Of that amount, more than half — $33,721 — was listed as unitemized expenses of $50 or less, which is allowed under Kansas campaign finance regulations.
Much larger campaigns reported far smaller amounts as unitemized expenses. Kelly’s campaign, for example, spent $3.8 million during the same period but listed $128 in unitemized expenses.
Miller said the smaller unlisted expenditures could have been for gasoline payments or candidate meet-and-greets costing less than $50.
“I filed my expenses in accordance with legal requirements,” Repass said.
The Repass campaign spent $93,337 last year.
“With the money (the campaign) did raise, they could have afforded some advertising,” Miller said. “If I got her strategy right from my inference, then her efforts don't seem very effective.”
A Kansas City Star article paraphrased part of Repass’s statement to say that her inexperience as a candidate motivated her to run for party chair.
“One of the main reasons I’m running to lead the Kansas Democratic Party is to ensure that our candidates have the resources and support they need to run a professional campaign,” Repass said, according to The Star. “That’s something I really could have used as a first time candidate for statewide office, and I hope no Democratic candidates find themselves in this position in future cycles.”