Primary Source

Published — September 23, 2014 Updated — Today at 5:17 pm EST

In Kansas, Democratic donors invest in uncertainty

Independent Senate candidate Greg Orman coy with caucusing plans

Introduction

Greg Orman, the independent U.S. Senate candidate from Kansas, won’t say whether he’ll caucus with Republicans or Democrats if he wins in November — a decision that could determine which party controls Congress’ upper chamber.

But such uncertainty hasn’t dulled enthusiasm from some of Orman’s prominent left-leaning donors during what’s become one of the nation’s more bizarre races: incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts narrowly survived a primary challenge from tea party foe Milton Wolf, and now, the Democratic candidate is attempting to drop out and may not even appear on the ballot.

Take entertainment lawyer Charles Ortner, who has represented the likes of Madonna, U2, Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.

This election cycle, Ortner has donated a combined $54,900 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, according to data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics and a Center for Public Integrity review of Federal Election Commission filings. He’s also given $1,000 to Orman.

“Mr. Orman is a fundamentally decent individual. He is not an ideologue. He is a practical problem solver,” said Ortner, who previously bundled between $100,000 and $200,000 for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and was later tapped by the president to serve on the board of trustees for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

“When I made a donation to Mr. Orman’s campaign I had no idea this would turn into a two-candidate race,” Ortner continued.

That sentiment was echoed by Hollywood executive Bernie Cahill, who has counted Ortman as a friend and business partner for more than 20 years.

This year, Cahill personally donated $16,200 to the Democratic National Committee and also helped put together “a small get together” for Orman’s campaign in Los Angeles. Campaign finance records show he has given $5,200 to Orman’s campaign — the legal maximum — as has his wife, Jaime Murray, the actress known for her roles on TV shows such as “Defiance,” “Hustle” and “Dexter.”

“Greg is going to be accountable first and foremost to the people of Kansas, and by extension he will act in the best interest of all the citizens of the United States,” Cahill said. “Frankly I’m not concerned in the least who he caucuses with.”

On the campaign trail, Orman has pledged to be “an independent [who] won’t answer to either party.”

He’s criticized both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for being “too partisan.” And he’s suggested that Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota or Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska should be considered as the next Senate majority leader.

Earlier this year, neither side suspected Kansas would be in play in November. Now, it’s among the most competitive in the country, in a high-stakes election where Democrats and Republicans are waging intense campaigns to determine who will hold the reins of power during Obama’s final two years in office.

Through mid-July, Orman, a wealthy, 45-year-old businessman, had raised more than $670,000 for his campaign war chest. Roberts, by contrast, had raised about $4.8 million, but he had also spent $3.8 million, largely to fend off Wolf, his primary opponent.

As of July 15, Orman reported about $360,000 cash on hand, versus Roberts’ $1.4 million.

Orman recognizes that, if he wins in November, neither Senate Democrats nor Senate Republicans may have the upper hand.

“If I get elected to the United States Senate, there’s a reasonable chance that neither party will have a majority,” Orman says in an online campaign video.

“If that happens, that’s a great thing for Kansas,” he continues. “It gives Kansans the opportunity to define the agenda.”

He further asserts that he may consider switching allegiances — that is, leave one caucus and join the other — if, after “four or five months,” there’s nothing but “the same, old partisan bickering.”

Orman continues: “We’ve never really seen the opportunity to hold the party in charge responsible and accountability for getting things done.”

That’s a welcomed message for Charles Conn, the warden of Rhodes House and global CEO of the Rhodes Trust and the Rhodes Scholarships.

A former registered Democrat who now identifies as an independent, Conn has previously donated to Democrats such as Obama, John Kerry and Rep. Walter Minnick of Idaho. This year, he’s donated $5,200 to Orman’s campaign because he thinks Orman is a “rational problem solver, not an ideologue.”

“I believe enough in having an independent bloc in the Senate that I am happy to trust that they will caucus with whomever they need to to be effective,” Conn said. “We urgently need collaborative problem solving, not partisan rhetoric, to address the country’s substantial challenges.”

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