Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) will use taxpayer money to pay the costs associated with being held in contempt by a federal court for failing to register eligible voters.
On Tuesday, the Kansas City Star reported that state lawmakers abandoned an effort during negotiations over the state budget to force Kobach to pay for the contempt order with his own money, rather than state funds.
Sue Becker, an attorney with Kobach’s office, wrote a letter to leading GOP lawmakers, claiming it would be illegal to ban the use of state money to pay for contempt fines because Kobach was sued in his professional capacity and not his personal capacity. Despite the fact that most of the state House was supportive of the prohibition, voting 103-16 to keep it in the budget, the legislature removed it shortly after Becker’s letter.
Kansas taxpayers will be footing Kobach’s bill even though the state is still coming out of a severe budget crisis. After he was elected in 2010, former Gov. Sam Brownback (R) conducted “a real, live experiment,” as he called it, slashing tax rates for the wealthiest Kansas, reducing other income taxes, and cutting sales taxes. As a result of the failed experiment, the state’s economy shrunk significantly.
Last month, a Kansas federal judge found that Kobach, a candidate for Kansas governor this year, acted “disingenuously” and failed to follow the court’s previous order requiring him to register voters who had not shown documentary proof of citizenship. The American Civil Liberties Union claimed in court that the requirement was unlawful and disenfranchised eligible voters.
“The court is troubled by defendant’s failure to take responsibility for violating this court’s orders, and for failing to ensure compliance over an issue that he explicitly represented to the court had been accomplished,” Judge Julie Robinson wrote.
A representative with Kobach’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the ACLU declined to comment.
The contempt order came after an eight-day trial in which Kobach’s effort to defend his documentary proof of citizenship law turned into a comedy of errors. Throughout the trial, Judge Robinson repeatedly chastised Kobach and his team of lawyers for violating basic rules of evidence and civil procedure. Instead of being represented by the state attorney general, Kobach chose to defend his law himself.
Before the contempt order, Judge Robinson indicated her disapproval in Kobach’s handling of the lawsuit. At one point in court, she claimed he had engaged in “gamesmanship” and treated individuals protected by the court’s 2016 preliminary injunction ruling as “second-class registered voters.”
Judge Robinson has not yet issued a final ruling in the litigation. When she does, taxpayers could be on the hook for even more fines against Kobach.