Topeka — The campaign of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach on Wednesday was hit with the maximum fine of $5,000 for errors in reporting nearly $80,000 in campaign funds during his successful election bid last year.
Kobach said the fine levied by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, showed a bias against conservative Republicans, such as himself, and ignored the recommended $750 fine from the “nonpolitical commission staff.”
The ethics complaint was filed against Kobach’s campaign treasurer, Tom Arpke, a Republican state House member from Salina.
Several Ethics Commission members said they were disappointed over statements by Kobach that the campaign self-reported the finance errors to officials.
The commissioners said it was the commission staff that brought the problems to light.
“The commission does not condone a lack of candor. This is in no way, shape or form self-reporting,” said Ethics Commission Chairwoman Sabrina Standifer.
But Kobach, who didn’t attend the hearing, disagreed, saying that although the commission staff initially looked into the finances, it was the campaign’s internal review that found more problems and finally resolved the reports. “We decided to come forward and self-report those errors,” he said.
The complaint alleged that the campaign made mistakes in reporting contributions totaling $35,011.52 and expenditures of $42,947.73.
“It’s clear the commission initiated this, and to not admit this is an aggravating factor,” in setting the fine, said Commissioner Glenn Kerbs.
Commissioner Mark Simpson, an assistant district attorney in Douglas County, said that the errors were a serious violation and that such failures undermine the integrity of elections. And, he said, that the campaign had shown “a complete lack of responsibility.”
Kobach defeated incumbent Chris Biggs, a Democrat, in the November election.
Arpke said the initial failure to keep accurate records was the result of a chaotic campaign that relied on volunteers.
He even noted that one event ended with a bomb threat with people trying to leave quickly while also writing contribution checks.
“We worked very hard on getting this corrected to the penny. It was a grueling process,” he said.
Despite the criticism from the commission, Arpke said he thought he was honest with the commissioners.
The commission voted 7-2 for the fine. An earlier motion by Commissioner John Solbach for a $4,500 fine failed. Solbach said that he understood the commission’s frustration with the Kobach campaign, but that he was willing to go below the maximum fine because Arpke had helped in tracking down receipts. But his motion failed 4-5.
Earlier, Arpke and the commission’s general counsel Camille Nohe had worked out an agreement for a $750 fine. But under questioning from the commissioners, Arpke refused to concede during the hearing that it was the commission staff that uncovered the discrepancies in the campaign reports.
At one point, he said he didn’t remember how the errors first surfaced. “It has been a long time ago,” he said.
Kobach noted a similar complaint in 1999 against the campaign of Bill Graves, a Republican who was elected governor, resulted in a $1,000 fine and involved an even larger amount of discrepancies.