A bill passed by the Kansas Senate last week was a mixed bag for Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
The initial bill under consideration would give the Secretary of State’s Office the power to prosecute election fraud cases. Kobach has vigorously supported the legislation, saying that the prosecution of these cases shouldn’t be left to county and district attorneys, who can’t give them the proper attention. Given the lack of evidence of significant voter fraud in the state and the fact that local prosecutors oppose the bill because they believe they have the situation under control, adding enforcement powers and staff to the Secretary of State’s Office seems like a poor expenditure of state funds. Another drawback of allowing any secretary of state to prosecute voter fraud cases is that some people in that office might allow political motivation to influence their prosecutorial strategy. For instance, Kobach’s contention that voter fraud is a big problem in Kansas might lead him to pursue questionable cases.
Nonetheless, the Senate approved the bill. However, before doing so, they added a largely unrelated amendment that would require Kobach to abolish his Prairie Fire Political Action Committee. Senators apparently weren’t worried about the political problems of allowing the secretary of state to prosecute voter fraud but were clear on the political problems associated with a secretary of state operating his own PAC.
Legislators and other Kansans need look no further than last November’s disputed 54th District Kansas House race to see the problems with the secretary of state operating a PAC. After House districts were redrawn, Democratic Rep. Ann Mah was moved into the 54th District and was challenged by Republican Ken Corbet. After the election, Mah trailed Corbet by just 44 votes and sought to obtain the names of people who had cast provisional ballots to urge them to do the follow-up necessary to make sure their votes were counted. Kobach filed a lawsuit in federal court to block Mah’s effort.
In the end, both Kobach and Mah lost; the court ruled against Kobach, but Mah still lost the race. The kicker, however, is that a campaign report filed with the Secretary of State’s office on Nov. 2, 2012, shows that Kobach’s own Prairie Fire PAC had paid $3,123 for an item listed as “Ken Corbet mailer” — a mailer supporting Mah’s opponent.
Did his PAC’s support of Corbet have any impact on Kobach’s pursuit of this case? It’s impossible to prove, but the PAC’s activity certainly calls the secretary’s of state’s actions into question.
Ideally, the two issues covered by the legislation approved by the Senate last week should be separated as the bill moves forward. Whether or not Kobach is successful in obtaining voter fraud prosecution powers, the need to ban the state’s top election official from operating a political action committee is clear.