Kobach knows election laws but not open record laws? Really?

Too bad Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach does not seem to take the Kansas Open Records laws very seriously.

We would expect a state elected official like Kobach, so bent on enforcing Kansas election laws, to know and understand all of the state laws and abide by them.

Not so.

A Kansas Press Association leader and a leading media attorney in the state are both accusing Secretary of State Kobach of flouting a year-old state open records law by using a private email account for his government 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 and other media laws, said Kobach’s contention that he is serving on the commission as a private citizen is “obviously totally insane,” The Kansas City Star newspaper reported.

And Doug Anstaett, the state press association’s executive director, also 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 recently 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’s comments reveal that he does not understand the state’s open records laws and why they exist, which is very troublesome to say about a serious candidate for governor of the state.

When elected officials start believing that laws do not apply to them, and that they are somehow above the law, a lot of problems are sure to follow.

Kobach spokeswoman Samantha Poetter reiterated Kobach’s position last week, 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 initially on the grounds that such records did not exist.

In July, the Associated Press 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,” Anstaett said. “He’s serving because of his position of secretary of state.”

The best elected officials are the ones who follow the laws to the letter and also follow the spirit of the laws, too, with the goal always to be completely transparent in all of their official duties.

Elected officials  who use their private email accounts for official government business must know that those private emails, by law now,  are open to public scrutiny. They just hope no one ever asks to read them.

So how can Kobach be so serious about voting laws and so lax and secretive on open records laws?

It makes you wonder.

The Holton Recorder

109 W. Fourth St.
Holton, KS 66436
Phone: 785-364-3141

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