As the Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach’s most important job is to oversee elections in the state.
Although secretaries of state are chosen in partisan elections, Kansans expect that, once they are in office, they will rise above partisan leanings and commit themselves — both by their actions and in the public’s perception — to an election process that is fair and without partisan bias. To a greater extent than any other elected state official, that requires secretaries of state to distance themselves from partisan involvements that could raise questions about their impartiality in performing their duties as the state’s chief election officer.
Establishing that distance apparently is difficult for Kobach, who has continued to be involved in issues and dealings that raise questions about his political impartiality. He continues his work — in his “spare time,” he claims — on illegal immigration issues around the country. He also raised some eyebrows when he agreed to be the honorary chairman of a Republican candidate’s campaign for the Kansas Senate. Now, Kobach has formed his own political action committee, called the Prairie Fire PAC.
Kobach has declined to say how he plans to use funds collected by the PAC, and said the only reason others are criticizing its formation is because he is a conservative. He pointed out that no one has commented on the political activities of past secretaries of state, but it’s questionable whether any other secretary of state in Kansas has ever attempted to remain as active in partisan politics as Kobach has.
Perhaps Kobach is planning to direct Prairie Fire PAC money at immigration questions or candidates in other states. Maybe all of the money will go outside of Kansas, but, because of the lag time in campaign finance reporting, it will be difficult for Kansans to properly monitor how that money is used.
The fact remains that the most common use of PAC money is to influence elections, perhaps the very same elections that it is Kobach’s job to oversee. As an attorney and former law professor, Kobach knows the law, but even if his PAC is entirely legal, it creates a perception that our secretary of state is less than impartial when it comes to political and election matters.
In the name of fighting voter fraud, Kobach has successfully pushed measures to require Kansans to show photo identification at the polls and prove they are citizens when they register to vote. His efforts to protect the integrity of elections in Kansas also should extend to his own professional behavior.