Secretary of state’s office removes public forms from its website amid concerns about privacy violations
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's office has removed information from its website about the business and financial holdings of public officials in response to concerns that the information could be used as a tool for identity theft.
The information in question is contained in forms called "Statements of Substantial Interest," or SSIs, a form that many officials, including elected ones, must file annually and disclose what other ownership interests they have in outside businesses and organizations, including nonprofit organizations.
But the forms also contain other personal information, including the last four digits the filer's Social Security number.
State law requires thousands of people connected with state government to file those forms annually. Besides elected officials and candidates for office, the forms are also required from anyone whose job is subject to Senate confirmation, general counsels of state agencies, consultants who work on contract with the state, and virtually all employees of state colleges and universities.
Brian Caskey, who heads the elections division in the secretary of state's office, said in an interview that he removed all links to that information on the agency's website immediately after receiving a complaint Thursday from Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, who said he looked up his own name on the website and discovered that the form online displayed the last four digits of his Social Security number.
That action means the public currently does not have online access to information on those forms.
Carmichael told the Journal-World that he sent a letter to Kobach on Friday, demanding that his information be removed from the website. He also filed a Kansas Open Records Act request seeking the "names, addresses, occupation, and date of access of each person or entity" who has viewed his information, a move he said would help him in mitigating any damage that may have been caused by the disclosure of sensitive personal information.
Disclosing the last four digits of someone's Social Security number is considered inherently dangerous because people with knowledge of how those numbers are generated can sometimes guess what the other numbers are, especially if they know when and where the person was born. That, then, could give hackers access to all kinds of personal information such as credit histories and medical information.
Caskey said he is working with the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission to find a solution that will allow public access to the information on those forms without disclosing sensitive personal data.
Caskey said the forms are typically submitted in one of two ways, either by paper filings that people fill out by hand or through electronic filing, which has become more popular in recent years. He said the paper forms are optically scanned into image files, making it hard technologically to redact any information. But he said redaction would be easier with forms submitted electronically.
In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, Kobach said the information contained in the forms is prescribed by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, and state law requires the secretary of state's office to receive those forms and make all of the information contained in them available to the public.
But he said he does not believe a person's partial Social Security number is necessary, and he is asking the ethics commission to consider amending the form, an issue the commission plans to take up at its next meeting on Jan. 31.
Kobach said the practice of making the forms available online through the secretary of state's website began in 2005 under then-Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach received a public dressing-down Tuesday over a column he wrote last week for Breitbart News, and Kobach himself backed away from some of what he said.
In the Sept. 7 article, Kobach said out-of-state voters "likely" changed — through voter fraud — the outcome of New Hampshire's 2016 U.S. Senate race, in which Democrat Maggie Hassan unseated incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte by fewer than 800 votes.
Kobach pointed to New Hampshire's same-day registration law as a weakness in its election security because more than 6,000 same-day registrants used out-of-state driver's licenses to vote in New Hampshire.
Fourteen other states have same-day registration, something that Kobach has said he vehemently opposes. But New Hampshire's law is somewhat complicated because the Granite State makes a distinction between being a "resident" of the state and being "domiciled" in the state.
The law says a voter must be domiciled in the state, but it is possible to be domiciled without necessarily being a resident. A college student, for example, can be domiciled in New Hampshire without necessarily being a resident. The law has been challenged in New Hampshire courts, and the state's Legislature has been working for some time to address technical issues in the statute.
The article sparked widespread controversy because it was published just one week before President Trump's Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, of which Kobach is vice chair, was to meet in New Hampshire. In fact, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a Democrat, came under pressure at home to resign from the commission in protest over Kobach's comments.
Gardner did not resign, but he did use Tuesday's commission meeting as an opportunity to publicly chide Kobach for his article.
"The problem that has occurred because of what you wrote is that the question of whether our election as we have recorded it is real and valid, and it is real and valid," Gardner said, prompting applause from the audience.
"The first couple of meetings that we had, the chairman of the commission (Vice President Mike Pence) made it very clear to us that we work in a consensus (manner) and that we work in a way that we don't have any preconceived, preordained ideas about what the facts are going to turn out to be, that we're going to use facts, we're going to search for the truth, and that is something that we all need to stay focused on," Gardner added.
He went on to say the distinction between being a resident and being "domiciled" in the state is difficult for many people to grasp, and that is one of the things the New Hampshire Legislature is trying to resolve.
Kobach, a former law professor who is now running for governor in Kansas, had earlier given a lengthy, legalistic explanation of the law. And he appeared to back away from some of the comments he made in the Breitbart article, saying that he was trying to explain a complicated legal issue into an 800-word article.
But Kobach also insisted that New Hampshire's same-day registration law made it easy for people from outside New Hampshire to engage in what some people call "drive-by voting." He added that when he was a student at Harvard he volunteered for then-Sen. Bob Dole's 1988 presidential campaign, and he knew students who would have been willing to drive to New Hampshire and vote, if the law had been in place at that time.
But Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat whose office is in charge of both elections and driver's licenses, slammed the idea that there is any connection between a person's driver's license and his or her eligibility to vote.
"There is utterly no connectivity between motor vehicle law and election law," Dunlap said. "Primarily, you have a right to vote. Driving is a privilege. We can take away your driver's license, and we do that about 85,000 times a year."
"So making this equation that somehow people not updating their driver's licenses is an indicator of voter fraud is almost as absurd as saying that if you have cash in your wallet, that's proof that you robbed a bank," Dunlap said.
With no fanfare, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach changed his official residence recently to his farm near Lecompton and registered to vote in Douglas County.
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew confirmed that Kobach changed his voter registration on March 8. He had previously been a resident of Piper, in Wyandotte County.
Kobach's property in Douglas County has been the subject of some controversy. In 2014, he was cited for using the property as a residence, even though he only had permission to use it as an agricultural building.
He later obtained the permits needed to occupy the building as a residence, and he now intends to build an actual home on the property.
"They do currently have slightly cramped quarters, causing most of their possessions to be stored at his parents' house," Kobach's spokeswoman Samantha Poetter said in an email. "His daughters love living out in the country. They expect to break ground on their future home next week."
Kobach has announced that he will run for governor in 2018. If elected, he would be the first state governor of Kansas elected from that area, although all of the state's territorial governors called Lecompton home, including the last territorial governor, George M. Beebe, Dec. 17, 1860-Feb. 9, 1861.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach may have shown his hand, in the most literal sense, when he posed for a picture Sunday just before his interview with President-elect Donald Trump.
The photos, released by The Associated Press, show Kobach holding a binder for a legal pad with some papers on the outside facing the cameras. Zooming in on the document itself, the photo shows a paper titled "Department of Homeland Security, Kobach Strategic Plan For First 365 Days."
In Kansas, Kobach has been known as an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration and the lead champion of strict voting laws that require people to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to vote. During the presidential campaign, he was a vocal supporter of Trump, appearing on network news programs as a surrogate for the candidate to talk about immigration policy.
Since the election, he has served on Trump's transition team, advising the new administration about immigration, and he has been widely rumored to be in the running for an appointment in the new administration.
But the document he carried with him into the meeting — or at least the portion that is visible in the photo — may provide the clearest clues yet about what may lie ahead for immigration policy in the new Trump administration.
The first item listed reads "Bar the Entry of Potential Terrorists," and includes a comment about reactivating a registration system that would trigger government tracking of aliens coming into the country from "high-risk areas."
The second item appears to suggest stepping up deportations of aliens who have been convicted of crimes, including "193,000 criminal removal cases dropped by the Obama Administration."
There is also a reference in the middle of the page about defining a criminal alien as "any alien arrested for any crime, or any gang member." And it mentions "386 miles of existing actual wall," an apparent reference to the border wall between the United States and Mexico.
During the campaign, Trump vowed to build a wall along the entire 1,989-mile border with Mexico and to make Mexico pay for it, although he has since softened that position somewhat. He also spoke of banning all entry into the U.S. of Muslims and people from countries "compromised" by terrorism.
At the bottom of the document, most of which is covered by Kobach's jacket sleeve, are references to election laws, including an item suggesting "Draft Amendments to National Voter" [Registration Act].
That last item is of particular interest in Kansas because of a string of recent federal and state court rulings that have effectively overturned Kansas' proof-of-citizenship requirement, at least as it applies to voters who register through a motor vehicle office or by using a federal mail-in form that does not require citizenship documentation.
Kobach did not return emails and text messages seeking comment Monday, and the voicemail box on his cellphone was full. Officials in the secretary of state's office also did not return phone messages Monday.
TOPEKA — Republicans meeting at their national convention in Cleveland this week adopted what some are calling the most conservative platform in Republican Party history.
In fact, one of the people calling it that is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach who played a significant role in drafting many of its statements.
"Yes, I absolutely believe that to be the case," Kobach said in a telephone interview from the convention Monday.
Kobach was chosen by Kansas Republicans to be one of the state's 40 delegates to the convention, and one of nine who are pledged to support presumptive nominee Donald Trump for president. And last week, before the full convention began, he spoke to the party's Platform Committee urging adoption of statements on issues ranging from immigration and gun rights to abortion and same-sex marriage.
That platform endorses Trump's campaign pledge to build a wall along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border; opposes any effort to restrict ownership of any type of guns or ammunition; opposes the use of federal money to fund Planned Parenthood or similar organizations; and expressly condemns the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
"I was involved in drafting language that criticizes the Obergefell decision (legalizing same-sex marriage) and the flimsy reasoning of the Obergefell decision," Kobach said.
According to recent polling data, many of those positions put the party directly at odds with rapidly changing public opinion, particularly on the issue of marriage equality. But Kobach made no apologies about that.
"I would compare it to the life issue, the abortion issue," Kobach said. "The Republican Party, after Roe vs. Wade (in 1973) took a stand and said we think the decision is wrong, and we think that the Supreme Court made a mistake, and we think the laws on this subject are still open to debate. And the party began persuading the public ... and public opinion has shifted. Now, for the first time, since Roe v. Wade, you have the majority of Americans stating that they are pro-life."
But recent polling data on abortion is far from conclusive. A CNN/ORC International poll conducted in March showed 78 percent of those surveyed believe abortion should be legal at least some of the time. And in a separate poll by Suffolk University and USA Today in December, a sizeable majority, 58 percent, said they opposed defunding Planned Parenthood.
On the issue of marriage equality, a CBS News poll last month found 57 percent of those surveyed saying it should be legal for same-sex couples to marry, although a majority of Republicans in the survey disagreed.
Most recently, a CBS News/New York Times poll earlier this month showed 57 percent of voters overall oppose building a wall along the Mexican border, although 73 percent of Trump voters support the idea.
The GOP platform, and Kobach's involvement in drafting it, has prompted a predictable level of outrage on the editorial page of the New York Times, which condemned the platform Monday under the headline, "Kansas Zealot Helps Shape the G.O.P.’s Right-Wing Platform."
It's the kind of criticism Kobach says he's grown accustomed to, and which bothers him not at all.
"Generally, if the New York Times editorial page disagrees with what I'm doing, then I think I'm probably doing the right thing," he said.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach on Monday announced his endorsement of New York billionaire Donald Trump for president, while State Treasurer Ron Estes fell in line with most other elected GOP officials endorsing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Kobach became the first major elected state official to endorse Trump, but his announcement came on the heels of endorsements from two other "establishment" Republicans, former candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
Kobach, who has built his political career on his strident stands against illegal immigration, said that is his paramount concern in the 2016 elections.
“For me, the most important issue in the Republican presidential contest is immigration and its effect on our national security," Kobach said. "On that issue Mr. Trump stands head and shoulders above the other candidates. He has made it clear that ramping up the enforcement of our immigration laws will be his top priority. And he has forcefully rejected the notion of giving amnesty to illegal aliens living in the United States.”
Estes, who has maintained a much lower public profile than Kobach since taking office in 2011, said one of his duties as treasurer is administering the state's 529 higher education savings program, and he said he believes Rubio is the better candidate to address the rising cost of higher education.
"We must move beyond the idea of throwing more federal money at the problem and encourage a national conversation about the appropriate career education at the appropriate cost," he said. "More than any other candidate, Marco Rubio has shown a passion for reining in the rising cost of higher education. Marco continuously demonstrates a desire to modernize an education system that has left far too many students unable to start their adult lives on solid financial footing."
Most other elected Republican officials in Kansas, including Gov. Sam Brownback and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, have thrown their support behind Rubio. Others, including 1st District Congressman Tim Huelskamp, have endorsed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Second District Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins, whose district includes Lawrence, and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran have not endorsed any of the current candidates, although Jenkins was an early supporter of Carly Fiorina, who has since dropped out of the GOP race.
On the Democratic side, former Gov. and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has thrown her support behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
But a poll by Fort Hays State University last week showed the largest segment of Kansas voters in both parties were still undecided a week out from the March 5 caucuses.
The Kansas State AFL-CIO executive board has endorsed two Democrats, Paul Davis for governor and Jean Schodorf for secretary of state, in the 2014 election.
Davis, the House minority leader from Lawrence, is the presumptive Democratic nominee to take on Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican.
Schodorf, a former Republican state senator from Wichita who switched to the Democratic Party, has announced she will seek the Democratic nomination to face Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican. Mission Hills businessman Randy Rolston, a Democrat, has already filed to run in the race.
"Union members are looking ahead to new leadership for a stronger Kansas," said Bruce Tunnell, executive vice president of the Kansas State AFL-CIO. "We are proud to support Paul Davis for Governor and Jean Schodorf for Secretary of State. We are confident that Davis and Schodorf are the right candidates for the job at hand," he said.
A clay-shooting fundraiser for the re-election campaign of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is scheduled for Oct. 12.
Kobach also will discuss Second Amendment rights at the event, which will be held at the Ravenwood Lodge in Topeka.
Participation options run from $25 to $1,000.
Kobach, a Republican, is running in 2014 for his second four-year term as secretary of state.
Former Republican state Sen. Jean Schodorf of Wichita, who has switched to the Democratic Party, has announced that she will seek the Democratic nomination. Mission Hills businessman Randy Rolston, a Democrat, has already filed to run in the race.
Kobach promotes Voter Registration Kit on National Voter Registration Day; doesn’t mention problem of voters in ‘suspense’
Topeka — It's National Voter Registration Day and like secretaries of state across the nation, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach on Tuesday encouraged people to register to vote.
But Kobach made no mention of the more than 17,000 Kansans whose voter registrations are on hold because of the proof-of-citizenship requirement that he fought to get into law. The law took effect in January.
Instead, Kobach, in a news release, promoted a 14-page Voter Registration Kit that details requirements to register to vote in Kansas.
The booklet can be downloaded at www.gotVoterID.com.
The booklet contains information about the proof of citizenship requirement for new voters, methods for delivering paper or digital copies of citizenship documents to county election officials, and contact information for those officials.
"We are pleased to offer a new portable tool to help civic organizations, parties and agencies to facilitate voter registration," Kobach said. "I encourage all United States citizens who are 18 years of age or older to register to vote if they haven’t already. And people who have moved should make sure their voter registration records are updated with their current address information," he said.
Kobach has said the proof of citizenship requirement is needed to prevent undocumented immigrants from voting. Voting rights advocates say the requirement is unnecessary because seldom does an undocumented immigrant try to vote, and it is a hardship for some people, such as the elderly, who have trouble getting their birth certificates to prove citizenship.
The American Civil Liberties Union has threatened to file a lawsuit over the growing number of voter registrations in "suspense."
Topeka -- Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday didn't seem to want to get involved in the controversy over the 13,000 Kansans whose voter registrations are up in the air.
When asked about it, Brownback, a Republican, referred to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, also a Republican. "It's in the secretary of state's purview," Brownback said.
Brownback acknowledged an interest in the voting booth being "open for people." "We'll watch and review the process as it's coming forward, but there is a constitutional officer that's in charge of that." Again, that's a reference to Kobach.
Since the state proof of citizenship requirement took effect at the start of this year, more than 13,000 new Kansas voter registrants have been unable to complete the process because they didn't provide citizenship documents, such as a birth certificate or passport.
Voting rights advocates say the new law needs to be repealed and that the large number of incomplete registrations shows the state wasn't ready for such a proof of citizenship requirement.