Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach would get the power he’s sought for his office to prosecute election fraud cases, but he’d also have to shut down his political action committee under legislation approved Thursday by the state Senate. The Senate approved the bill on a 31-9 vote, sending it to the House, where its future is less certain. Kobach, a former constitutional law professor, said he doubts a law prohibiting the secretary of state from having a PAC would be constitutional. But he also said he’s optimistic legislators ultimately will junk the anti-PAC proposal while expanding his office’s authority. “I’m pleased that the Senate intends to get serious about the prosecution of election crimes,” Kobach said during an interview.
Kobach, a conservative Republican elected in 2010, successfully pushed for laws requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls and to require people who register to vote for the first time in Kansas to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship. But lawmakers balked previously at giving the secretary of state authority to file and prosecute election fraud cases instead of referring them to federal, state or local prosecutors.
Kobach argues his office needs the power because election fraud cases are often a low priority for other prosecutors, who must pursue violent crimes.
But Kobach is a polarizing political figure. He was nationally known as a law professor for advising officials in other states wanting to crack down on illegal immigration and helped draft tough laws in Arizona and Alabama. His push for photo ID and proof-of-citizenship rules for prospective voters brought him more national attention, and he’s even weighed in as a private citizen on gun rights proposals.
Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, who ran unsuccessfully twice for secretary of state, said giving Kobach the power to pursue election fraud allegations could lead to expensive “witch hunts.”
“It’s overreaching,” Haley said. “It’s overlap that’s unnecessary.”