CHICAGO -- Kansas Democrats and moderate Republicans on Monday criticized campaign donations to conservative candidates by a political action committee controlled by state Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R).
Kobach, a leader of the state's conservative Republican faction and the chief elections officer in Kansas, has been making donations from his Prairie Fire PAC to conservatives challenging moderates for Senate seats in Tuesday's Republican state Senate primary. The primary climaxes a bitter civil war between conservative Republicans, who control the state executive branch and the state House of Representatives, and moderates, who control the Senate, to determine Senate control for the next two years.
"It doesn't look good when your state's elections officer is acting in a very partisan manner," said Senate Vice President John Vratil (R-Leawood). "Whether there is truth to it, some people will assume that it will affect elections. I don't think that's good for public perception."
Kobach, who founded the PAC in March, has been making $500 and $1,000 donations to conservative challengers around the state, including a recent endorsement for Rep. Joe Patton (R) in his race against Sen. Vicki Schmidt (R), one of the state's premier primary battles.
Vratil, in Chicago for the National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting, said he was concerned with how the elections are being run, noting that Senate Majority Whip Jean Schodorf (R-Wichita) was given the ballot for the wrong district in early voting. Schodorf is a moderate being challenged by Wichita Councilman Michael O'Donnell (R). O'Donnell has received $500 from Kobach. Vratil, a leader of the state's moderate Republicans retiring this year, also said he is concerned that there has been a drop in early voting in some of the state's largest counties.
Rep. Ann Mah (D-Topeka), the ranking minority member of the House Elections Committee, said she believes Kobach is trying to change the way elections are run with his PAC donations to favor conservatives. She said she is monitoring the primaries to see how people are being treated at the polls. She said she has concerns that Kobach's political involvement may affect his work as the person in charge of elections.
Mah, who has long had an adversarial relationship with Kobach, also said she opposes Kobach's push for Kansas voter ID cards.
"It just shows that he doesn't mind using his office to help Republicans and conservative Republicans win," Mah said. "He seems to think he's above the rules."
Kansas has no prohibition on the secretary of state operating a PAC.
Kobach defended his PAC's involvement in the election, telling HuffPost in an email that his campaign contributions are "consistant with past practices" in the state. He said secretary of state is on the ballot every four years and there have been no complaints of previous secretary of states managing elections while being a candidate.
"For example, I had full faith that my Democrat opponent in 2010, who was the incumbent secretary of state, would perform his responsibilities fairly," Kobach said. "I am equally committed to performing my responsibilities with fairness and integrity."
Kobach said the actual counting of votes is conducted by county officials, including elected county clerks in 101 of the state's 105 counties. His office certifies the votes.
With low turnout predicted for Tuesday's vote, Vratil said his concerns also center on who will win.
"That would suggest to me that the right wing radicals will win," Vratil told HuffPost. "I use that term intentionally."