Anyone who followed this year's Senate race in Kansas — the one longtime GOP incumbent Pat Roberts appeared to be losing to Greg Orman, the businessman running as an independent — knows Orman and his supporters vigorously denied Roberts' allegation that Orman was really a Democrat running to further the Democratic agenda.
"By word, by deed, by campaign contribution, this man is a liberal Democrat," Roberts said of Orman during a debate in October. "A vote for Greg Orman is a vote to extend the Barack Obama/Harry Reid agenda."
Not true, Orman answered. "The senator can say that over and over again, but it doesn't make it so."
What voters did not know was at that very moment, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid's political action committee, the Senate Majority PAC, was preparing to pour more than a million dollars into the pro-Orman effort in Kansas. Reid was just waiting to make sure the donations came so late in the campaign that the public wouldn't find out about them until after the election.
The key day was Oct. 16. Election law stipulates that any contribution received before Oct. 16 had to be publicly disclosed to the Federal Elections Commission before election day. But anything received on Oct. 16 or later would not be disclosed until after voters went to the polls.
Stung by Roberts' criticism, Kansas Democrats were putting out the story that the party wasn't helping Orman, even though Reid and his colleagues had forced the actual Democratic candidate out of the race because they believed Orman had a better chance of beating Roberts. Word was that the outside groups supporting Orman, one called the Committee to Elect an Independent Senate and another called Kansans Support Problem Solvers PAC, weren't getting help from the big Democratic organizations.
"[Orman] has been hindered by a lack of support from outside groups," National Journal reported on Oct. 15. "The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Senate Majority PAC, wary of backing a candidate who has said he will caucus with whatever party holds the majority, have declined to help his campaign."
The very next day, Oct. 16 — at the very moment the pre-election disclosure blackout began — the first of Reid's Senate Majority PAC checks arrived at the pro-Orman Committee to Elect an Independent Senate.
That check was for $450,000. The next day, Oct. 17, another $250,000 arrived. There was $500,000 on Oct. 28. And $35,000 on Oct. 30. And $75,000 on Oct. 31.
Kansans Support Problem Solvers PAC received $123,000 from Reid's group on Nov. 3. On that same day came another check for $23,000. Then, on Nov. 4, election day, another $5,300.
Other liberal groups sent money, too, after the blackout began. On October 25, the League of Conservation Voters sent $250,000 to the Committee to Elect an Independent Senate. On October 29, the League sent another $200,000.
The public knew nothing of it until weeks after the election, when disclosure was finally required. The Roberts campaign was in the dark, too. They watched as Orman matched their campaign ad spending in the final days, but didn't know where the money was coming from.
Later, after the election, Roberts' aides, along with everyone else, learned about Reid's expenditures. "It was not surprising," says Corry Bliss, who ran Roberts' campaign. "Remember that Greg Orman was the handpicked candidate of liberals across the country. Harry Reid actively worked to get the Democrat out of the race so he could support Greg Orman."
Meanwhile, as pro-Orman groups were cashing checks from Harry Reid, Orman himself was proclaiming his independence. He wasn't the candidate of Democrats or any other party, he said. "I've tried both parties," Orman said at that October debate, "and like a lot of Kansans, I've been disappointed."
For a while, Orman's appeal appeared to be working; at one point in September, some polls showed Orman leading Roberts by ten points. Even though that lead narrowed as election day approached, the final RealClearPolitics average of polls showed Orman up by a point.
The polling proved spectacularly wrong when Roberts won by 11 points. In the end, voters in true-red Kansas came home to Roberts, even if they had their problems with him earlier in the race.
Roberts' argument that a vote for Orman was really a vote for Harry Reid prevailed on election day. Now, as it turns out, voters didn't know the half of it.