Kris William Kobach (['koʊbɑk]; born March 26, 1966) is an American politician serving as the 31st and current Secretary of State of Kansas since 2011. A former Chairman of the Kansas Republican Party and member of the City Council of Overland Park, Kansas, he was the Republican nominee in Kansas's 3rd congressional district in the 2004 election, losing to the Democratic incumbent, Dennis Moore.
Kobach came to prominence over his hardline views on immigration and his involvement in the diffusion of high-profile anti-immigration ordinances in various American towns. Kobach is also known for his calls for stronger voter ID laws in the United States and a Muslim registry. He has made claims about the extent of voter fraud in the United States that studies and fact-checkers have concluded are false or unsubstantiated.
As Secretary of State of Kansas, Kobach implemented some of the strictest voter identification laws in the United States and fought to remove nearly 20,000 registered voters from the state's voter rolls. Following considerable investigation and prosecution, Kobach secured nine convictions for voter fraud; all were cases of double voting, and most involved voters who had misunderstood their voting rights.
Kobach announced in June 2017 that he would run for Governor of Kansas against incumbent Governor Jeff Colyer. On August 7, 2018, Kobach narrowly led Colyer in the Republican gubernatorial primary by an initial margin of 191 votes. After Kobach's lead widened (eventually to 343 votes), Colyer conceded the race on August 14. Kobach will face Democrat Laura Kelly and independent candidate Greg Orman in the general election.
Kobach was born in Madison, Wisconsin on March 26, 1966 and his family moved to Topeka, Kansas when he was 7. His father owned a Buick dealership, where he worked while in high school. In 1984, Kobach graduated from Washburn Rural High School in Topeka, Kansas, where he was co-valedictorian, and class president. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Government from Harvard University, graduating summa cum laude and first in his department. The director of Harvard's Center for International Affairs, Professor Samuel P. Huntington, was Kobach's faculty advisor from 1984 to 1988. Huntington believed that migration, especially from Mexico and Latin America, represented the most perilous threat to what he called the "American identity." When Kobach taught law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Huntington’s writings were required reading in the course. From Harvard, Kobach went on to earn an M.A. and D.Phil. in Politics at the University of Oxford, attending having been granted a Marshall Scholarship. Returning to the U.S., he earned a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1995. and became an editor of the Yale Law Journal. During this time, Kobach published two books: The Referendum: Direct Democracy in Switzerland (Dartmouth, 1994), and Political Capital: The Motives, Tactics, and Goals of Politicized Businesses in South Africa (University Press of America, 1990).
From 1995 to 1996, Kobach clerked for Judge Deanell R. Tacha of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Lawrence, Kansas. He began his professorship at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) shortly thereafter. In 2001, President George W. Bush awarded him a White House Fellowship to work for Attorney General John Ashcroft. At the end of the fellowship, he stayed on as Counsel to the Attorney General. Shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, he led a team of attorneys and researchers who formulated and established the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System. In addition, he took part in work to reshape the Board of Immigration Appeals in 2002. After his government service ended, he returned to UMKC to teach law until he was elected Kansas Secretary of State.
While running for Congress in 2004, Kobach represented out-of-state students on behalf of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), in a lawsuit against the state of Kansas, challenging a state law which grants in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. The suit was dismissed for lack of legal standing for the plaintiffs. In 2005, Kobach filed a lawsuit on behalf of FAIR's Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), challenging a similar law in California. In September 2008, the California Court of Appeal held that California's law granting in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants was preempted by federal law. (Martinez v. Regents, 166 Cal. App. 4th 1121; 2008). In November 2010, the California Supreme Court unanimously reversed, finding that the law was not so preempted, because it was based on attendance for three years and graduation from a California high school.
In 2010, Kobach filed a third similar tuition lawsuit, this time in Nebraska. The case was dismissed in a Nebraska district court in December of that year, for plaintiffs' lack of legal standing.
Kobach has litigated numerous lawsuits defending cities and states that adopt laws to discourage illegal immigration. He served as lead lawyer defending the city of Valley Park, Missouri in a federal case concerning an ordinance that requires businesses to use a federal worker verification program known as E-Verify in order to maintain a business license. The ordinance was upheld by Missouri federal judge E. Richard Webber on January 31, 2008 (Gray v. Valley Park, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7238). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), representing the plaintiff, appealed the case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Kobach prevailed on appeal, and the Court allowed the Valley Park ordinance to stand (Gray v. Valley Park, 567 F.3d 976 (8th Cir. 2009)), saying that the ordinance "addresses the employment of illegal aliens, not Hispanics."
Kobach was the lead attorney defending the city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, whose ordinances prohibiting employing and renting to illegal immigrants had been struck down by a federal judge in Pennsylvania and again before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. In June 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Third Circuit's decision and remitted the case back to the Third Circuit for reconsideration. Sup. Ct. No 10-722. In July 2013, the Third Circuit concluded again that both the employment and housing provisions of the Hazleton ordinances were preempted by federal immigration law.
Kobach became counsel in another lawsuit, in part involving a Farmers Branch, Texas ordinance that attempted to prevent landlords from renting to illegal immigrants. That case was appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals where it was first heard by a three judge panel that largely decided against the city. In addition to the costs of the immigration suits, the City had spent $850,000 defending two voting rights lawsuits. The City appealed the panel's ruling, in Case No. 10-10751, with the Fifth Circuit granting an en banc rehearing by the entire Court . After losing there with the costs to the City by that December reaching $6.1 million, the City appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear its appeal in 2014. The city had engaged Kobach to help write the ordinance in October 2006. The plaintiffs in the case, including the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the ACLU and the ACLU's National Immigrants' Rights Project, were awarded $1.4 million in June 2014.
As of January 2011, it was estimated that Kobach had received $6.6 million from jurisdictions as he defended their anti-immigration ordinances he had helped to create and/or defend.
In 2011 the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) compared him to Harold Hill, the central character of the "Music Man," writing: "Like Hill…Kobach comes to town with big ideas and a can-do attitude but leaves behind a trail of tears — huge legal bills and unworkable laws coupled with social turmoil." In an August 2, 2017 sendup, comedian Samantha Bee made the same comparison, in an episode of her "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee" television show, singing the Hill/Kobach part herself, with Hamilton's Javier Muñoz appearing as the hectored immigrant.
In August 2018, ProPublica and The Kansas City Star reported that none of the towns where Kobach helped to enact anti-immigration ordinances over a 13-year period still had those ordinances on the books. The ordinances were costly to defend in court, with some localities going bankrupt. At the same time, Kobach personally profited, earning more than $800,000 on legal work for the localities over a 13-year period, paid both by the localities and an anti-immigration advocacy group.
Kobach played a significant role in the drafting of Arizona SB 1070, a state law that attracted national attention as the country's broadest and strictest—at the state level—illegal immigration measure, and has assisted in defending the state during the ongoing legal battle over SB 1070's legality. On February 7, 2008, Federal Judge Neil V. Wake ruled against a lawsuit filed by construction contractors and immigrant organizations who sought to halt a state law that imposes severe penalties on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. The plaintiffs appealed the ruling, but Arizona prevailed (with Kobach's assistance) in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Chicanos por la Causa v. Arizona, 558 F.3d 856; 2009). The case was further appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. In June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the case Arizona v. United States, upholding the provision requiring immigration status checks during law enforcement stops but striking down three other provisions as violations of the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.
A 2015 ruling by the United States District Court for the District of Arizona limited the effectiveness of the lone provision of SB 1070 that had been upheld as constitutional. Arpaio lost re-election in 2016. The suit cost the county over $56,000,000 in legal fees and costs. During this litigation, it was revealed that Kobach was paid $300 per hour to train the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in regard to immigration matters.
Kobach was cited as a primary author of Alabama HB 56, passed in 2010, which was described as tougher than Arizona's law. Much of the law was invalidated on appeal at various levels of appeals courts or voluntarily withdrawn or reworded.
Kobach won a seat on the Overland Park, Kansas, City Council, in April 1999. Following the September 11 attacks, Kobach helped construct a program that mandated that men from 24 predominantly Muslim countries and North Korea be fingerprinted, photographed and questioned at government offices. Of the 83,000 plus men who did so, the government moved to deport 13,740 of them for immigration violations.
Kobach ran for Kansas State Senate in 2000, finishing third out of four Republican primary candidates.
In the 2004 election cycle, Kobach was the Republican nominee for Congress in the 3rd District, narrowly besting primary opponent and 2002 party nominee Adam Taff by 207 votes, with state representative Patricia Lightner far behind. He lost to incumbent Dennis Moore, 55%–43%. The victory was the largest of Moore's congressional campaigns. The campaign thrust Kobach onto the national stage, mostly due to his stance on illegal immigration. Kobach advocated for the imposition of a national consumption (sales) tax. He was given a speaking role on the opening day of the 2004 Republican National Convention and used his slot to call for the U.S. military to be sent to the Mexican border to block illegal immigration.
On January 28, 2007, Kobach was elected Chairman of the Kansas Republican Party (GOP), serving until January 2009. Kobach's chairmanship was noted for the broad changes he introduced to election efforts. As Chairman, he raised money for targeted statewide and legislative races and instituted a direct-role policy for the state party in those races. He also pushed the State Committee to create a "loyalty committee", which was charged with sanctioning Republicans who assisted Democratic candidates in contested races.
This led to several party officers being stripped of voting rights in party matters as punishment for giving campaign contributions to Democratic Candidates. After Kobach left office, a Federal Elections Commission (FEC) audit strongly criticized Kobach's financial management of the Kansas GOP. The FEC audit found that when Kobach served as chairman, the state party failed to pay state and federal taxes. It was also discovered that illegal contributions were accepted.
In December 2007, Kobach sent an email saying, "[T]o date, the Kansas GOP has identified and caged more voters in the last 11 months than the previous two years."
On May 26, 2009, Kobach announced his candidacy for Kansas Secretary of State. His opponents in the Republican primary were Shawnee County Election Commissioner Elizabeth Ensley and J.R. Claeys, former president of the National Association of Government Contractors. Kobach won the Republican nomination with 50.6% of the vote. Ensley and Claeys finished with 27.0% and 22.4%, respectively.
On November 2, 2010, Kobach defeated incumbent Democrat Chris Biggs, 59%–37%. Kobach was endorsed by Tennessee's former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, as well as former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (his former boss at the Dept. of Justice). Joe Arpaio, Arizona's controversial then-Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, campaigned for Kobach as well.
Although Kobach's campaign treasurer, Tom Arpke, possessed campaign experience, losing a state senate race in 2008, winning a Salina City Council seat the next year, and a state House seat in 2010, he was found to have under-reported contributions by $35,000 and nearly $43,000 in expenditures in Kobach's 2010 campaign, resulting in a maximum $5,000 fine. Kobach complained that he was being discriminated against because former Republican Governor Bill Graves received a much smaller fine for similar violations. Kobach alleged, "The only real distinction I can see is that I'm a conservative and he's a moderate." The chair of the Kansas ethics commission said "The commission does not condone lack of candor before the commission." When he obtained convictions of Kansans for interstate voting irregularities in 2016, Kobach said, "The fines are "exactly what I wanted to see in cases like this when I made the case before Kansas Legislature that this authority was needed ... A $5,000 fine is very significant, and hopefully something no one would want to have to pay", he said.
The 2012 Republican Party platform included self-deportation as a response to illegal immigration to the United States. Kobach proposed the measure, stating "If you really want to create a job tomorrow, you can remove an illegal alien today."
In response to a caller on his March 1, 2015 radio show, Kobach agreed that it would not be "a huge jump" for the Obama administration to call for an end to the prosecution of all African-American suspects. The Kansas Democratic Party decried Kobach's comment as "hate speech" and termed it "a new low." Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, the only African-American woman in the Kansas Senate, called Kobach's comments ridiculous. Kobach said that he stood by his statements declaring, "My point was to bring attention to the Obama Justice Department's position that some civil rights statutes can't be enforced against people of color", Kobach said. "For example, one of the Obama administration's first actions it took in 2009 was to drop the slam-dunk charges against the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation."
One Republican member of the Civil Rights Commission disagreed, however. Abigail Thernstrom, writing in National Review, described the incident as "small potatoes". She warned that exaggerating its importance could hurt conservatives, noting that in 45 years there had only been three successful prosecutions. She said just two Panthers had been at a single, majority-black precinct in Philadelphia, and after months of hearings, testimony and investigation, there was no actual evidence that any voters were afraid to vote. She continued, "Too much overheated rhetoric filled with insinuations and unsubstantiated charges has been devoted to this case."
On September 2, 2015, representatives of groups most likely to be affected by Kobach's plan to shorten a deadline for tens of thousands of suspended voters to produce proof of citizenship, including the ACLU, the League of Women Voters (LWV), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Organization for Women (NOW), all testified in a Topeka hearing conducted by Brian Caskey, a Kobach appointee, against the implementation of Kobach's policy. Although Kobach's office was in the building adjacent to the courthouse, he failed to appear for the rule change hearing and to answer questions. Instead his request was supported by Andrew Howell, a Shawnee county elections official whom Kobach also had appointed.
In response to criticism levied by the campaign staff of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Kobach characterized them as "left-wing knuckleheads". He remarked that Clinton was getting her "pant suit in a twist", over his stance in favor of implementing some of the most strictly enforced voter ID laws in the United States. Clinton had claimed Kobach's interventions were an attempt to make voting more difficult for key Democratic constituencies, such as young people and racial minorities.
While speaking on February 20, 2016, to a committee of the Kansas 2nd Congressional District delegates, regarding their challenges of the proof-of-citizenship voting law he championed in 2011, Kobach said, "The ACLU and their fellow communist friends, the League of Women Voters — you can quote me on that, sued".
In February 2016, Kobach endorsed Donald Trump's campaign for the U.S. Presidency, citing his stance on immigration. He proposed a halt to what he said was $23 billion in annual remittances by Mexican nationals illegally living in the U.S. unless Mexico makes a one-time $5–10 billion payment for Trump's proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
On August 1, 2018, Kobach's office was ordered by federal judge Julie Robinson to pay $26,000 in attorney fees to the Kansas American civil Liberties Union for court costs in a proof-of-citizenship case which he lost.
In September 2014, Democrat Chad Taylor announced he was withdrawing from that year's U.S. Senate race in Kansas. Kobach ruled that he had improperly filed his withdrawal, and his name had to remain on the ballot. Taylor claimed to have followed the instructions of Assistant Secretary of State Brad Bryant on his filing, which was completed within the appropriate time frame. Citing concurrence from Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Kobach's move was cheered by the Kansas Republican Party. Both Kobach and Schmidt were members of Republican U.S. Senator Pat Roberts' honorary campaign committee. Taylor's attempt to withdraw left the race more open for independent Greg Orman, strengthening his challenge to Sen. Roberts.
On October 1, 2014, a panel of three Shawnee County judges ruled that the Kansas Democratic Party was not required by state law to fill the vacancy on the ballot; Kobach ordered the ballots to be printed the next day. Kobach was re-elected in November 2014 over moderate former Republican State Senator and Democratic candidate Jean Kurtis Schodorf by a margin of nearly 19%.
In 2009, records indicated that just seven allegations of voter fraud had been referred for investigation and possible prosecution, and just a single one had been prosecuted since 2004. In 2008, a similar bill was vetoed by then-Governor Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat.
Under Governor Sam Brownback, who left office on January 31, 2018, Kansas endured major fiscal deficits that affected highway funding and school transportation funding. In an effort to critically examine government expenditures, the Associated Press (AP) examined records of all flights taken by top government officials (regardless of which state agency paid for the trip) taken within the 15-month period from January 2015 to March 24, 2016. The Governor of Kansas is required to reimburse the state for personal or political travel, but the AP discovered that Kobach had not reimbursed the state for flights totaling more than 4,350 miles in the state Highway Patrol (KHP) nine-passenger, Raytheon King Air 350. A number of Kobach's trips aboard the state plane seemed to provide no apparent benefits to Kansans, nor were they undertaken in pursuit of official duties. Kobach is alleged to have scheduled negligible state business to coincide with Republican Party functions, taking his family along with him.
In August, he and two of his daughters made a $360 flight to Newton to meet the county clerk before attending the county Republican Ice Cream Social. Two days later he flew to Wichita, at a cost of $524, to be the keynote speaker at the Sedgwick County Republican Party fundraising picnic. He spoke there about Republican party partisan issues.
He was unable to reserve the Beechcraft to fly to Washington, D.C., for a hearing and deposition on a lawsuit which he had joined in support of Brian Newby, whom he had helped get appointed as the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) director. Newby had previously been appointed by Kobach as a Kansas elections official. Kobach and a staff member's commercial flights and other expenses cost $6,594. Newby, without public notice, unilaterally changed a national voter registration form in order to require residents of Kansas, Georgia and Alabama to show proof of citizenship. Representative Jim Ward criticized Kobach's use of the state plane to promote national voter ID policies, an action he contended was intended to "suppress votes." State Senate Democratic Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said Kobach should reimburse Kansas for trips to Republican Party events, characterizing claims that the political functions coincided with official business was "probably just a ruse."
As Secretary of State of Kansas, Kobach has implemented some of the strictest voter ID laws in the United States. In September 2016 it was reported he "agreed last month to add nearly 20,000 properly registered voters to the state's rolls only after being threatened with contempt of court." In response to a sufficient citizens petition requesting convening of a grand jury for the purpose of investigating Kobach's actions, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled on August 31, 2018 that a grand jury must be convened. The Brennan Center for Justice describes him as "a key architect behind many of the nation's anti-voter and anti-immigration policies." Kobach has periodically made unsubstantiated claims about the extent of voter fraud in the United States.
In 2010 press conference, Kobach asserted there could be as many as 2,000 people who were using the identities of dead people to vote in Kansas, mentioning it "certainly seems like a very real possibility" that "Albert K. Brewer" was an example of one such deceased individual who had voted in a recent primary. When the Wichita Eagle followed up on Kobach's assertion, it discovered Brewer, 78 years old, was still alive, although his father, who was born in 1904 and had a different middle initial, had died in 1996.
Kobach has also said that there are 18,000 non-citizens registered to vote in Kansas, a claim that NBC News described as "misleading" and "debunked".
Kobach supported President Trump's claims that millions of non-citizens voted in the 2016 presidential election. Kobach estimated that 3.2 million non-citizens voted, citing a widely debunked study. Kobach complained that, during one of his appearances, CNN ran text on the screen saying Kobach's claims that millions illegally voted in the 2016 election were "false". CNN also asked him if he had any proof of his allegation that thousands of Massachusetts voters actually had voted in New Hampshire in 2016. He replied that he had none.
In September 2017, Kobach claimed to have proof that voter fraud swung the 2016 Senate race in New Hampshire and may have swung New Hampshire's 2016 presidential vote; fact-checkers and election experts found that Kobach's assertion was false. Kobach claimed that more than 5,000 individuals voted by using out-of-state driving licenses as identification, even though New Hampshire residents are required to update their licenses in order to drive. However, New Hampshire state law allows residents of the state who happen to have out-of-state driving licenses to vote. There are a number of reasons why some voters may use out-of-state driving licenses, with the most likely being that they are out-of-state college students. Numerous legitimate New Hampshire voters said that this was the case with them; they were students at colleges in New Hampshire who had yet to update their driving license. New Hampshire Public Radio also found that most instances of out-of-state driving licenses being used were in college towns. Another reason is that they may be military personnel on active duty. FactCheck.Org described Kobach's claim as "baseless" and "bogus", noting that Kobach "hasn't provided evidence of any illegal voting". Later that September, Kobach backtracked on his claims, but said that there have been "anecdotal reports" about voter fraud.
Richard L. Hasen, the Chancellor's Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine, an election law expert, has described Kobach as a "charlatan", "provocateur" and "a leader nationally in making irresponsible claims that voter fraud is a major problem in this country."
In 2015, Kobach received from the legislature and the governor the right to prosecute cases of voter fraud, after claiming for four years that Kansas had a massive problem of voter fraud that the local and state prosecutors were not adequately addressing. At that time, he "said he had identified more than 100 possible cases of double voting." Testifying during hearings on the bill, questioned by Rep. John Carmichael, Kobach was unable to cite a single other state that gives its Secretary of State such authority. By February 7, 2017, Kobach had filed nine cases and obtained six convictions. All were regarding cases of double voting; none would have been prevented by voter ID laws. One case was dropped. The other two were still pending. All six convictions involved older citizens, including four white Republican men and one woman, who were unaware that they had done anything wrong.
One of those Kansans prosecuted, Randall Kilian, thought he was expressing his preference about marijuana legalization as it affected his new Colorado retirement property after receiving a mail-in ballot in 2012, when he was 59 years old. He did not want pot growing next to his home, so he marked that issue only, and mailed it in as instructed. The sheriff and county attorney of Ellis County, Kansas, learned of this and questioned Kilian. Both concluded he had not intentionally broken the law and decided not to prosecute. However, when Kobach got prosecutorial authority in such cases, a year later, he reopened the case. Trying to avoid the expense of a trial, Kilian pleaded guilty in 2016 and paid a $2,500 fine.
Kobach examined 84 million votes that were cast in 22 states, but referred only 14 cases to be prosecuted. University of Kansas assistant professor of political science Patrick Miller includes voter intimidation as a form of fraud. "The substantially bigger issue with voter fraud has been election fraud being perpetrated by election officials and party officials tampering with votes ... It is not the rampant problem that the public believes that is there. Kris Kobach says it is. Donald Trump says it is. And the data just aren't there to prove it. It's a popular misconception that this is a massive problem."
A Brennan Center for Justice report calculated that rates of actual voter fraud are between 0.00004 percent and 0.0009 percent. The Center calculated that someone is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.
Kobach has championed the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which compares state records to find people registered to vote in more than one place. The New York Times credits him with rapidly expanding the reach of the program, referred to as the "Kansas Project," which by 2017 included more than 30 states. According to the New York Times, "The program searches for double registrations using only voters' first and last names and date of birth, and it generates thousands of false matches — John Smith in Kansas can easily be confused with John Smith in Iowa." Due to its tendency to produce false matches, the program could be implemented to suppress the vote and wrongly remove legitimate voters from voter rolls.
The program has led to sensational and misleading headlines: for example, 35,750 voters in the 2012 North Carolina general election matched with voters with supposedly identical voters in other states, but upon close investigation only "eight cases of potential double voting were referred to prosecutors and two people were convicted." Doubts over the accuracy of Crosscheck has led some states to withdraw from the program. A 2016 paper by researchers at Stanford, Harvard, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania found that if the program were fully implemented "200 legitimate voters may be impeded from voting for every double vote stopped."
Until 2014, Alaska's Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell had the ultimate responsibility for the conduct of his state's elections. He stated that in 2013, 14 voters had been identified Crosscheck as possibly double voting. His director of elections, Gail Fenumiai disputed the accuracy of that number, stating that a dozen of those were incorrectly identified. Of the remaining two, a subordinate said it appeared only one at the most had done so, and that remaining name had been referred to the Department of Law's criminal division for further investigation. In testimony to Alaska's legislature, Kobach claimed he had found that, between 1997 and 2010, before he took office, 235 voters had cast illegal ballots in Kansas. He subsequently admitted that fewer than 12 had been prosecuted. He said he had successfully urged Treadwell to join the "Kansas Project".
The technology website Gizmodo discovered that Kobach's office had made the last four digits of the Social Security (SS) numbers of thousands of state employees and legislators available to anyone doing an Internet search. It informed Kobach's office of the problem and was informed it would be remedied. The state of Florida, which obtained the Social Security numbers of hundreds of Kansas voters from Kobach via participation in the CrossCheck program, had made them publicly available. Gizmodo analyzed conflict of interest forms filed by the current 125 state House members, and those of 40 senators, and found the partial SS numbers for 117 of the Kansas House members, and those of 34 senators, as well as the numbers of former legislators.
From 2013–15, more than 36,000 Kansas residents (14% of those trying to register to vote) were placed on a suspense list[clarification needed] because they failed to meet the proof of citizenship requirements that had been introduced in a 2013 law. Kobach justified the law, saying that it stopped what he described as the rampant problem of non-citizens voting; Reuters noted that "there is little evidence" of non-citizen voting being a problem. A federal judge ordered Kobach to register more than 18,000 voters kept off the rolls by the proof of citizenship law; in her ruling, she wrote, "The court cannot find that the state's interest in preventing non-citizens from voting in Kansas outweighs the risk of disenfranchising thousands of qualified voters". The judge noted that there was only evidence of three non-citizens in Kansas voting between 2003 and 2013.
A Reuters analysis of the individuals on a suspense list found that "more than 60 percent were age 25 or under. They were clustered in the high-population areas of Wichita, Topeka and the Kansas City suburbs, and the college towns of Lawrence and Manhattan." 41 percent were unaffiliated, 35 percent registered as Democrats and 23 percent as Republicans. Reuters noted that the proof of citizenship requirement "has created a chaotic two-tier system where some Kansans can vote in state elections and some cannot, some need to provide proof of citizenship and others do not, and many county election officials are uncertain how to proceed."
An appellate case, No. 16-5196, requesting an injunction by the federal courts to prevent the implementation of revised voter registrations in Kansas, Georgia and Alabama, was argued on September 8, 2016, and decided in favor of the appellants on September 26, 2016. The relief was granted by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. It prevented the use of the revised forms. The case was the League of Women Voters of the United States, et al., versus Brian Newby, in his capacity as the Executive Director of the United States Election Assistance Commission. On June 18, 2018, a federal judge ruled that proof of citizenship voting requirements were unconstitutional, and ordered Kobach to take six hours of legal education before he could renew his law license.
On February 18, 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against Kobach and Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan on behalf of Steven Wayne Fish and others alleging that the Documentary Proof of Citizenship requirement of the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) Act violated the National Voter Registration (Motor Voter) Act of 1993. A temporary injunction was issued on May 17, which was upheld by the appellate court in Denver on October 19. On June 23, 2017, Kobach was fined $1,000 for "deliberately attempting to mislead the court" on whether he was complying with the court orders in this case.
In April 2018, Kobach was found to be in contempt of court for failing to follow an order by a federal judge to notify the approximately 18,000 voters whose voting registration was being held up by Kobach that they were fully registered and could vote. Kobach had at the time of the order assured the judge that he would notify these voters via postcard. More than 18 months later, the ACLU noted to the judge that Kobach had yet to do so. Trial hearings had run from March 6 to 19, 2018, with a contempt hearing for Mr. Kobach on March 20. On April 18, 2018, Julie A. Robinson the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court of Kansas, officially ruled that Kobach was in contempt. He was not fined but was ordered to pay court costs, including more than $26,000 in attorney fees for the American Civil Liberties Union, which sought the contempt ruling and that "any further remedial measures" would be taken upon her ruling on the case. Moriah Day, a spokeswoman for Kobach's campaign for governor, said the secretary of state's office would appeal the decision and would have no other comment.
Kobach traveled to Alaska both to testify in the legislature on behalf of photo I.D. laws and to recruit its participation as another state in his "Kansas Project." Opposing the change, representatives of indigenous Alaskan Natives said a photo I.D. rule would impede voting in remote, roadless, Native majority areas, referred to as "the bush." Republican Lt. Governor Treadwell declined to support the bill, however, despite Kobach's claim that it was Treadwell who recruited him to push for its passage.
Treadwell's opposition was based on concerns that the legislation in question would suppress voting in that demographic due to inherent difficulties for remote village residents in obtaining such identification, for whom getting driver's licenses can be burdensome and which are not mandated to have photos. Treadwell said he had no recollection of ever talking to Kobach directly about it although the subject had arisen in a roundtable discussion with NASS convention attendees. Responding to a reporter, he claimed he was unaware that Kobach had testified in his state, firmly rebutting the notion that he had any role in advancing the bill. The reporter, Richard Mauer,validated that Treadwell had not taken any position on it in testimony nor had he supported it via correspondence.
In January 2017, Kansas election officials tossed thousands of uncounted provisional ballots cast in November 2016, saying that there was no record that those residents were registered voters. Kobach's office did not compile a count of how many ballots were tossed, but an assessment by the Associated Press and the League of Women Voters of the state's 11 largest counties out of a total of 105 counties, show that at least 8,864 ballots cast were discarded without being counted, slightly more than 1 percent of total votes in those counties.
President Trump issued executive order 13799 establishing the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity on May 11, 2017. White House officials reported that Kobach would be serving as vice-chairman (with Vice President Pence as chairman) of the twelve-member, Republican majority commission, which will "review claims of improper registrations and voting, fraudulent registrations and voter suppression".
Although Pence was the titular head of the Commission on Voter Integrity, Kobach was its operational leader. In that capacity, Kobach, who serves on the elections committee of the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), wrote to the top election official in every state requesting they turn over voter data ostensibly to aid a countrywide search for evidence of election irregularities. Besides information such as the names and party affiliations of all registered voters, Kobach sought birth dates, felony conviction records, voting histories for the past decade and the last four digits of all voters' Social Security numbers. This precipitated a resounding bipartisan rejection of his inquiries with 22 states quickly rejecting his requests. Ironically, Indiana's SoS, Connie Lawson, and even Kobach himself, indicated that their state laws forbade them from complying.
Kentucky's Secretary of State, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, said the supposed basis for creation of the commission in the first place — that voter fraud was pervasive and needed to be restrained — was essentially a pretext. She continued, "Kentucky will not aid a commission that is at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an effort to legitimize voter suppression efforts across the country". Mississippi's Republican Secretary of State, Delbert Hosemann, said, "They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from ... Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state's right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes."
The ACLU, representing plaintiffs in a voting rights case, asked the presiding federal judge to prevent Kobach from withholding the public documents he was photographed carrying as he met with Trump, by virtue of marking them "confidential". The plaintiffs demanded the public release of those documents they have received, that had been prepared with state funds. They claimed Kobach "made statements to the public, the Court, and the President, suggesting that noncitizen registration fraud is a serious, widespread problem", at the same time he tried to hide those same documents that debunked his claim, to prevent having to testify himself in open court about those same materials.
In June 2017, a federal magistrate judge, James O'Hara, found that Kobach had made "patently misleading representations" to the court when he claimed he didn't possess the materials sought by the plaintiffs, in the course of the document dispute. Kobach had been photographed with the president with the documents under his arm, and much of the cover page was readable in that photograph. In light of Kobach's "deceptive conduct and lack of candor", he was fined $1,000 by the court and ordered to submit to questioning by the ACLU about the documents.
A student at Topeka's Washburn University took note of the magistrate judge's action and filed a complaint with the Disciplinary board of the Kansas Supreme Court, alleging that by his conduct, Kobach had "shown a lack of respect for the courts." She informed the local press that the board had notified her by mail that it was investigating her complaint.
On July 3, 2017, a complaint was filed with the United States Department of Justice by Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a progressive activist group, to investigate whether Kobach violated the Hatch Act, accusing him of using his position as a federal employee, vice chairman of the Commission, to promote his current campaign for governor of Kansas, and to solicit campaign contributions.
Non-profit organizations are plaintiffs in different lawsuits including the ACLU (ACLU v. Trump and Pence and Joyner v. Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity) and the NAACP (NAACP v. Trump), contesting practices engaged in by the Commission. They include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP, Public Citizen, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). The lawsuits by the first two groups involve the lack of transparency of the Commission's meetings, whereas the lawsuits by the second two groups involve the collection by the Commission of personal private data.
On July 24, United States District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly denied EPIC's request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and preliminary injunction against the Commission, ruling that the Commission was not required to conduct a privacy review before gathering data. On August 29, the government's attorney told the judge that "confusion" at the Department of Justice had resulted in the failure to disclose relevant documents to the plaintiffs, and Kollar-Kotelly ordered the defendants to provide a "Vaughn Index" listing those documents they wanted to withhold in whole or part, and how it would comply with the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
In January 2018, in the Joyner case, the Department of Justice disclosed that the White House would not be turning over any state voter data to the Department of Homeland Security, despite the White House's and Kobach's earlier statements to the contrary.
Fellow Commission member Hans Von Spakovsky described the efforts of his Heritage Foundation colleague, Kobach, to expose the alleged existence of extensive voter fraud as, "carefully described research". An email sent by Von Spakovsky, the director of the Foundation's Election Law Reform Initiative, on Foundation letterhead, surfaced in September 2017, in which he had also urged United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions to block any Democrats and "moderate Republicans and/or academics," from being appointed to the Commission.
The commission was disbanded by the Trump administration on January 3, 2018 without issuing a report.
On June 8, 2017, Kobach formally announced his campaign for Governor of Kansas in the 2018 election. In 2017, he was appointed the Vice Chairman and "driving force" behind the President Trump's Commission on Election Integrity, which purported to quantify the extent of voter fraud in the United States, but which critics said was intended to disenfranchise or deter legal voters. The Trump administration dissolved the commission on January 3, 2018.
During this campaign for Governor, Kobach repeatedly used a slogan asserting that Kansas was the "sanctuary state of the Midwest." The Associated Press noted that Kobach's slogan was "false for several reasons, including the state’s laws, compliance with federal immigration authorities and the undocumented immigrant population. Kansas has not passed any laws that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities, unlike another Midwest state, Illinois." Kobach did not identify any sanctuary cities in Kansas when asked by the Associated Press.
Democratic Senator Laura Kelly easily won the Democratic nomination. Independent Greg Orman, who finished second in the 2014 U.S. Senate race against incumbent Republican Pat Roberts, is running for governor, again as an independent candidate. On September 13, 2018, three prominent Republicans endorsed Kelly: Former Governor Bill Graves, former U.S. Senator Sheila Frahm, and former Kansas Senate President Dick Bond. On September 18, they were joined by former U.S. Senator and Republican from Kansas, Nancy Kassebaum, the daughter of ex-Governor Alf Landon, the 1936 Republican presidential nominee. She said: "I’m a Republican, but that doesn’t mean you walk lock step always with the party." "...Kobach has developed a record that shows a focus on ways and how to accomplish his end goals that I think are not the best for Kansas." Regarding Kelly, Kassebaum said, "...her experience, 18 years in the Kansas Legislature..., has given her a real understanding of what it takes to work across the aisle."
Kobach was a member of the Platform Committee of the 2016 Republican National Convention.
It was later reported that Kobach was being considered for Secretary of Homeland Security, and was photographed carrying a document entitled "Department of Homeland Security, Kobach Strategic Plan for First 365 Days" into a meeting with Trump. This plan reportedly included a register of Muslims as part of a suite of proposals, which included the "extreme vetting" of immigrants.
The New York Times has described Kobach as "close to the White House inner circle, including the president and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon", and having told the Associated Press that he met Trump in May 2017 through his son Donald Trump Jr., "with whom he has a mutual friend". He was named vice chairman of the new Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity by Trump in 2017. In June 2017 he told supporters that he has had "the honor of personally advising President Trump, both before the election and after the election, on how to reduce illegal immigration."
When asked by ABC News about President Trump's claim that he [Trump] had "won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally," Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway gave Kobach as a source of the claim. Kobach later told reporters in Kansas that, "I think the president-elect is absolutely correct when he says the number of illegal votes cast exceeds the popular-vote margin between him and Hillary Clinton," pointing to a 2014 study led by Jesse Richman, that claimed that "6.4 percent of noncitizens voted in 2008".
However, Richman's results, when reviewed by other researchers, were thoroughly rejected. Richman claimed to have found 489 noncitizens within a Harvard survey of 55,400 American adults, called the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. Two years later, three coordinators of the original C.C.E.S. study went back and re-interviewed 19,000 of the respondents, finding only 85 who said they were noncitizens and not one could be matched to a valid voting record. "Thus the best estimate of the percentage of noncitizens who vote is zero", the researchers wrote.
Kobach initially came to prominence in U.S. politics over his hardline views on immigration, and his involvement in the diffusion of high-profile anti-immigration ordinances in various American towns.
In October 2017, Kobach wrote a column on Breitbart News which said that immigrants commit a disproportionate share of crimes. According to the Kansas City Star, the claims made in the article have "been debunked by numerous studies over multiple years. In fact, studies have found immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the U.S." To support his claims, Kobach cited an column by Peter Gemma, who is associated with white supremacists and the American Holocaust denial movement.
Kobach identifies himself as a supporter of the 2nd amendment and concealed carry rights. Kobach advocated for the Convention of States, and has frequently voiced his support for states' rights. Although he stated on a candidate's questionnaire in 1999 that he supported women's right to abortion, by 2004 Kobach identified himself as "pro-life." Kobach is a supporter of gun rights and is against gun control.
Kobach repeatedly called on President Obama to release his birth certificate and defended those who persisted in claiming that Obama may have been born outside the United States, specifically in Kenya. As Kansas Secretary of State, he requested additional evidence of Obama's birth before he would allow Obama to appear on Kansas ballots for the 2012 presidential election, even after the release of Obama's long-form birth certificate. In 2009, Kobach "joked at a GOP barbecue that Obama and God had something in common because neither has a birth certificate." Kobach responded to criticism of the joke with "Lighten up. It's just a joke... Are they really suggesting it is forbidden to tell jokes about Barack Obama?"
In 2010, during his candidacy for the Kansas secretary of state, Kobach said Obama could end the controversy over his citizenship by producing a "long-form" birth certificate. In the preceding two years, judges had termed such suits "frivolous." These included U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick of Philadelphia, who had thrown out a lawsuit on the issue, saying it was a waste of the court's time. Kobach said that the certificate released by Obama "doesn't have a doctor's signature on it. ... Look, until a court says otherwise, I'm willing to accept that he's a natural U.S. citizen. But I think it is a fair question: Why just not produce the long-form birth certificate?"
In September 2012, while leading the three-person State Objections Board, and joined by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Kansas Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer, Kobach requested additional evidence, including the product of investigations from Mississippi and Arizona, that Obama was born in the United States. Kobach said he did not have enough evidence to determine if Obama could appear on the Kansas ballot for the 2012 presidential election. The New York Times editorialized that the actions of the Kansas authorities "reignited long-running conspiracy theories that the president was not born in the United States." CNN reported that "the Kansas ballot measure is one of several examples of the birther movement's still-persistent presence." At the time, Obama had released his long-form birth certificate but CBS News noted that "so-called "birthers" persist with a variety of arguments that he is ineligible for the presidency. Generally, they claim that the birth certificate as released by the president is a forgery or that he is not eligible for the presidency despite being born in Hawaii." Kobach maintained that the questioning of Obama's citizenship was not frivolous. Later that September, after a complainant dropped his challenge of Obama's eligibility for the Kansas ballot and after Hawaii officials sent a note to Kobach saying that Obama's birth certificate was genuine, Kobach allowed Obama to remain on the ballot and said, "That, for me, settles the issue".
In 2016, Kobach said that there are "interesting things" about the question of Obama's citizenship that "just made you scratch your head." Kobach said that Obama's opposition to Kansas's proof of citizenship requirement law was possibly because the president was not a citizen himself: "maybe that's why he doesn't talk about proof of citizenship, because he, you know, he would rather not bring up the citizenship issue."
Kobach was born in Madison, Wisconsin, to Janice Mardell (née Iverson) and William Louis Kobach. His great-grandparents were Bohemian and German on his father's side and Norwegian on his mother's side; they came to Wisconsin in the 1890s, where they were mostly farmers.
Kobach was married on June 23, 2001 to Heather Mannschreck, a former environmental systems engineer who now has a part-time photography business in addition to homeschooling their five daughters. Kobach, his wife, and their children live on their farm near Lecompton, north of Lawrence, Kansas. Their residence is in a building, the permits for which Kobach originally received lower taxation and permitting fees due to claimed intent for agricultural exemptions, rather than residential use. He stated he intends to build a residential home on the property. When building it, Kobach "closed in" the plumbing and electric work so it was not possible for the building inspector to examine it without tearing up the floor and removing walls that covered wiring. There was no septic system or water source. Despite those difficulties, he was granted permit waivers by the county administration, precipitating public controversy.
Kobach served as a missionary to Uganda in 2005 and 2006. Previously, he had volunteered to help build a school in a South Africa n township through the Get Ahead Foundation. He served as a Big Brother. He was a national rowing champion (men's pair event, master's division in 1998; men's double event, master's division, 2001, 2002). He is an Eagle Scout.
On February 7, 2018, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) issued an "F" rating, its lowest possible rating, for a Missouri-based group called Veterans in Defense of Liberty (VIDOL). The BBB found that the 501(c)(4) organization received less than 6% of donations solicited for the organization. Over 94% of funds went to American Target Advertising, a Virginia-based company which mailed solicitations for donations. Kobach, who has no military background, said he joined the group's advisory board because he cares "deeply about veterans and veterans' issues" and would review the organization's financial records to determine whether to sever ties with the group.
|Kansas's 3rd Congressional District Republican Primary Election, 2004|
|Kansas's 3rd Congressional District Election, 2004|
|Democratic||Dennis Moore (inc.)||184,050||54.8|
|Kansas Secretary of State Republican Primary Election, 2010|
|Republican||Elizabeth "Libby" Ensley||83,275||26.9|
|Republican||J. R. Claeys||69,039||22.3|
|Kansas Secretary of State Election, 2010|
|Libertarian||Phillip Horatio Lucas||17,336||2.0|
|Kansas Secretary of State Republican Primary Election, 2014|
|Republican||Kris Kobach (inc.)||166,793||64.7|
|Kansas Secretary of State Election, 2014|
|Republican||Kris Kobach (inc.)||508,926||59.2|
|Democratic||Jean Kurtis Schodorf||350,692||40.7|
|Republican||Jeff Colyer (incumbent)||128,204||40.51|
|Republican||Joseph Tutera Jr.||1,555||0.49|