Kansas ethics commission may levy fine for errors in financial reports from Kris Kobach’s campaign for secretary of state
Topeka ? Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is facing questions for a second time in less than three years about flawed finance reports filed by political organizations he led, and the latest issues could result in a $5,000 fine for the treasurer of his campaign last year.
Kobach said Thursday that an internal review uncovered dozens of mistakes in finance reports filed by his campaign. It omitted about $35,000 worth of contributions and $42,000 in spending from reports filed in July and October 2010 and in January, according to Carol Williams, the state Governmental Ethics Commission’s executive director.
His campaign filed corrected finance reports Tuesday. The commission met Wednesday and scheduled an Oct. 26 hearing on whether Kobach’s campaign treasurer should be fined. The commission planned to issue a formal notice Thursday.
In June, after a two-year review, the Federal Election Commission released an audit concluding that the Kansas Republican Party had committed three violations of federal campaign finance laws in 2007 and 2008, when Kobach was chairman. The audit cited flawed record-keeping and reporting, but Kobach described the problems as technical.
Kobach told The Associated Press that in the latest case, his treasurer, state Rep. Tom Arpke, a fellow Republican from Salina, is not responsible for the mistakes in the finance reports and actually helped to find them. Arpke did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.
“We did this all on our own. We just did an internal review and found a lot of mistakes,” Kobach said. “We just wanted to have our books balanced down to the penny.”
As secretary of state, Kobach, a Republican, is Kansas’ chief elections official, and state campaign finance reports are filed with his office, though Kansas campaign finance laws are enforced by the state ethics commission.
Kobach’s critics raised the FEC review of the Kansas GOP’s reporting and record-keeping as an issue during last year’s race for secretary of state, but Kobach received 59 percent of the vote to unseat Democratic incumbent Chris Biggs.
State Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon said questions about the finance reports from Kobach’s campaign cast doubt on his competence and his commitment to following the state’s reporting requirements.
“He doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson,” Wagnon said. “It’s ironic and sad that the state’s chief elections officer can’t fill out a campaign finance report correctly. He should be held to the highest standard and not the lowest.”
But Kobach brushed aside such criticism, noting that then-Republican Gov. Bill Graves’ re-election campaign faced questions about the same kind of inadvertent mistakes on its reports from 1998. The ethics commission fined Graves’ treasurer $1,000 the following year, after his campaign corrected reports to include nearly $228,000 in contributions it had omitted, out of $2.8 million raised.
“We basically corrected reports,” Kobach said. “We did this knowing there may or may not be a fine.”
Williams said the notice of the commission’s hearing would not list the individual contributions or expenditures that were omitted. Kobach said dozens of small donations — $10 or $20 each — are involved.
Kobach raised almost $328,000 for his campaign, starting in 2008, and loaned himself another $48,000. He spent about $335,000.
Under Kansas law, a campaign treasurer, not the candidate, is held responsible for omissions or mistakes in a finance report, but Kobach said that if a fine is levied, the campaign will pay it for Arpke. The secretary of state said none of the omissions were intentional and that Arpke was “diligent” as treasurer.
“I would not ascribe any of the errors to him,” Kobach said. “Tom was instrumental in going through all of this.”
Williams agreed that Arpke had worked hard to reconcile the finance reports with the records of Kobach’s campaign. She said Kobach’s campaign did “a very in-depth audit.”
Arpke, who owns a travel agency in Salina, won his first term in the Kansas House last year, unseating incumbent state Rep. Deena Horst, also from Salina, in the GOP primary.