An ethics watchdog group is asking the Department of Justice to investigate whether Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) violated federal conflict of interest laws by promoting a column he was paid for during a meeting with President Donald Trump’s commission on election integrity, a panel on which he is a top official.
Kobach has written 14 columns for Breitbart since June, and he told the Kansas City Star he gets paid by the outlet for his work. On Tuesday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the Department of Justice to probe whether Kobach broke the law when he wrote a paid column alleging widespread voter fraud could have changed the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in New Hampshire and then introduced the piece for discussion at the September meeting.
CREW alleges Kobach was using his official position on the commission to advance his financial interest, something prohibited by federal law. Kobach’s columns all have a note at the bottom noting Kobach’s position as vice chair of the commission, which is formally called the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
“The official actions of government employees should be free from any actual or apparent influence from outside financial interests,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “Secretary Kobach’s conduct, however, appears to undermine that principle, and should be investigated to determine if it violated the federal conflict of interest statute.”
The details of Kobach’s arrangement with Breitbart, including his compensation, remain unclear. Ethics experts told HuffPost in September he shouldn’t be writing about the commission’s work in his columns or granting Breitbart interviews in his capacity as vice chair of the panel if he was getting paid by them.
A Kobach spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
In his September Breitbart column, Kobach said he had “proof” the 2016 election was swayed by illegal votes. He focused on 6,540 people who utilized same-day registration in November 2016 with an out-of-state driver’s license, 5,313 of whom had failed to obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license by August of 2017.
But under New Hampshire law, not everyone who is eligible to vote is eligible to get a driver’s license. To vote, a U.S. citizen only needs to be currently living in New Hampshire and to intend to stay there for a definite period of time. To get a driver’s license, they need to intend to stay indefinitely. These provisions allow people like college students and military personnel to vote in the state even if they don’t intend to remain there on a permanent basis.
When Kobach brought up his column at the commission’s September meeting, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D), another commissioner, challenged him and said “that driver’s license issue is not an issue” and the results of New Hampshire’s elections were “real and valid.”
Kobach faces another complaint by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law alleging he violated the Hatch Act and is using his position on the commission to advance his campaign for governor of Kansas. His office has denied that allegation.
The commission itself seems to have temporarily stopped operating as it faces a slew of litigation alleging it is violating transparency and privacy protections.