Auto trade group hires Kansas governor’s chief of staff

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said Monday it has hired a top aide to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as its new vice president of state affairs.

The auto trade association that represents Detroit’s Big Three automakers, along with Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen AG and other firms, said Monday it hired Landon Fulmer, who is currently Brownback’s chief of staff and has been a longtime aide to Brownback in Congress and in Kansas. He will start Jan. 5.

“Landon comes from a state where ideas are fervently debated and rough-and-tumble politics is a way of telling your constituents that you care. He is steady, smart, a great listener and a natural leader — all qualities that will make him a terrific ambassador for our industry,” said Mitch Bainwol, president and CEO, Auto Alliance.

The alliance said Fulmer has experience with automotive issues, dating back to his time as legislative director for Brownback, when Fulmer worked on auto sales issues. Fulmer was an intern in Brownback’s Senate office in 2002 and then worked in the office from 2003-2010, then moved to Kansas to serve as policy director after Brownback was elected as governor in 2010. Since April 2012, Fulmer has served as the governor’s chief of staff.

Fulmer said state legislatures are key to automakers. Many states have taken up the issue of whether Tesla Motors can sell cars without a traditional dealer network, while other big issues include state zero-emission vehicle mandates, fuel and other vehicle taxes, “right to repair” rules and high-occupancy vehicle regulations.

“State legislatures are vibrant forums where policy can move with astonishing speed even as legislators wrestle over the details,” said Fulmer. “In a state legislature, a bill can be introduced, heard in committee and on the floor the next week. You have to keep your running shoes on to keep up, and it is advisable to love it. I do.”

Fulmer said he is a “car guy.”

“I have been a car guy since boyhood, when I would oftentimes require that people address me as Mario Andretti rather than my real name,” said Fulmer. “While I started out loving race cars, I have grown an appreciation for the full range of vehicles sold in our country. My home state, Kansas, is an agricultural state and almost two-thirds of new vehicle sales are light trucks, including SUVs, vans and pickups.”

In May, Brownback called reports that the FBI was investigating the fundraising efforts of Fulmer and former chief of staff David Kensinger a “smear” campaign. “I’m not seeing the allegations of criminal activity. I’m seeing a lot of efforts to try to smear people,” Brownback told The Wichita Eagle at the time.

The Eagle reported federal investigators were reviewing meetings that Kensinger held with lobbyists at state Republican Party headquarters in August 2012, including some attended by Fulmer.

The New York Times reported that Fulmer asked a lobbyist after the meeting for $1,000 each for 14 Republican state senate candidates.

Kensinger denied wrongdoing. Eileen Hawley, the governor’s spokeswoman, told The Eagle that Fulmer did nothing wrong.

“Raising funds for candidates is a completely acceptable and common occurrence, in both parties. It is perfectly legal for a member of the governor’s personal staff to participate in fundraising and that activity is in full compliance with state ethics statutes and regulations,” she told the newspaper. “For people to infer anything else is quite simply wrong.”