KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas Press Association leader and a media attorney are accusing Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach of flouting a year-old state open records law by using a private email account for his work as vice chairman of President Donald Trump’s commission on election fraud.
Max Kautsch, a Lawrence attorney who specializes in free speech and open government issues, said Kobach’s contention that he is serving on the commission as a private citizen is “obviously totally insane,” The Kansas City Star reported . And Doug Anstaett, the press association’s executive director, said Kobach is “dead wrong.”
The 2016 law says that public officials’ emails on public business are subject to disclosure under the Kansas Open Records Act even if they are on a private account or device.
“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.
Kobach’s emails with the commission became an issue last week when the investigative site ProPublica reported that commission members were using private emails to conduct business. Kobach told the site that using his state account would waste state resources because he’s serving as a private citizen, not as the state’s chief elections official.
Kobach spokeswoman Samantha Poetter reiterated that position Monday, saying that on the commission, Kobach is not conducting business for the state. Even when Kobach’s state title is used in printed materials, it does not indicate he is conducting Kansas business, she said.
The Star requested records related to the commission from Kobach’s office in May, but his office denied that request a month later on the grounds that such records did not exist. In July, the AP also requested communications between Kobach and his staff and the commission, including emails and was told by an attorney “there are no records that are responsive to this request.”
Anstaett said the press association will consider taking legal action.
“You can’t just declare that you are a private citizen when you are a public servant serving the president of the United States,” he said. “He’s serving because of his position of secretary of state.”
But Republican state Sen. Molly Baumgardner, of Louisburg, didn’t agree that serving on the commission was part of his duties as Kansas secretary of state. She said the commission needs to ensure that the emails are available through the federal Freedom of Information Act.