Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s use of private email for a presidential commission could bring him into conflict with a 1-year-old state law meant to increase government transparency. Kobach, a candidate for Kansas governor, told ProPublica last week that he was serving on President Donald Trump’s voting fraud commission as a private citizen rather than as Kansas secretary of state and that he was using his personal gmail account for commission business rather than his official state account. Kobach, a candidate for Kansas governor and vice chair of the commission, said using his state account would be a “waste of state resources.” The ProPublica report scrutinized the use of private email by commission members and their possible violation of a federal statute that requires any federal government business conducted by private email to be forwarded to a government address within 20 days. But Kobach may also be running afoul of a state law, enacted last year, that made Kansas officials’ private emails subject to the Kansas Open Records Act, or KORA, if they pertained to public business.
“The question about the private email is not as important as whether or not Kobach is acting as the secretary of state,” said Max Kautsch, a Lawrence attorney who specializes in First Amendment and open government issues.
Kautsch, who served on a special state panel that crafted the legislation, called the notion that Kobach, the state’s top election official, was serving on the voting commission as a private citizen “obviously totally insane.” He said Kobach would be highly vulnerable to lawsuits.
“This is why the law was changed, so that officials can’t come up with reasons for keeping the public in the dark that aren’t credible,” Kautsch said.