Prosecutor looking into conduct of former Kansas election official

Brian Newby

WICHITA — A Kansas prosecutor is looking into allegations of misuse of public funds against a top U.S. election executive when he was a county election commissioner in the state, two county officials confirmed Monday.

Johnson County spokeswoman Sharon Watson said that the county had concerns over the findings of an audit completed after Brian Newby left Kansas to take a job as executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in November last year. The federal commission was created in part to help make voting easier but advocates have said Newby has worked for restrictions.

“It was appropriate for us to inform the district attorney of what we were finding in the audit and provide him with that information,” Watson said.

District Attorney Stephen Howe said in an email that his office “has and will continue to work with Johnson County Government to review Mr. Newby’s conduct while serving as Johnson County Election Commissioner.”

Newby said in an email to The Associated Press that it would be wrong to say that he is under criminal investigation. He has called the audit findings “inaccurate, incomplete and misleading.”

The review by the county auditor found that in Newby’s previous job he intentionally skirted oversight of government credit card expenses, improperly claimed mileage and travel expenses, and wasted taxpayer funds. Auditors found Newby used the government card of the assistant commissioner, in effect allowing him to approve most of his own expenditures rather than submit them to the county manager.

The audit of Newby’s fiscal management at the Kansas job was released in March. In the federal job, Newby infuriated voting rights advocates when he decided without public notice or review from his agency’s commissioners that residents of Alabama, Kansas and Georgia can no longer register to vote using a federal form without providing documentary proof of U.S. citizenship.

A government watchdog group, the Campaign for Accountability, asked Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt on Monday to investigate Newby for using the local election office as his “personal piggy bank.”

The attorney general’s office confirmed receipt of that request, but said it plans no further action at this time.

“We have consulted with the Johnson County District Attorney’s office and are in agreement that the allegations included in the letter fall within the jurisdiction of that office and local authorities,” its spokeswoman Jennifer Rapp said in an email.

The federal election assistance commission was created in 2002 to help prevent a repeat of the disputed 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore following voting chaos in the crucial state of Florida.

“No one who has abused his state office as Mr. Newby clearly did should be awarded a new perch in the federal government,” said Anne Weismann, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability. “The Election Assistance Commission should demand his resignation and its inspector general should also take a close look to make sure Mr. Newby hasn’t been replicating his Kansas spending habits in Washington.”

Voting rights groups have sued Newby and the federal commission over his unilateral move requiring documentary proof of citizenship in the three states, saying it hurts voter registration drives and deprives eligible voters of the right to vote.

The public advocacy group, Allied Progress, called last month for the agency’s inspector general to investigate communications between Newby, and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The Associated Press reported the communications based on emails provided under an open records request. The inspector general’s office has declined to investigate while the civil lawsuit is ongoing, according to a letter the inspector general sent Allied Progress.

This month, more than 116,000 people have signed an online petition from progressive advocacy group CREDO Action urging the inspector general to investigate what it calls voter suppression at a federal government agency entrusted with making voting more accessible.