Group resists naming donors after pro-Kobach ads in Kansas

January 2, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this July 8, 2019, file photo, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach addresses the crowd as he announces his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Leavenworth, Kan. Per Aspera Policy, a group that ran ads promoting Kobach during his failed bid for Kansas governor, argues that it is not legally required to disclose its donors to the public. The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has given Per Aspera Policy until Jan. 15, 2020, to file public reports on its activities during the last governor's race. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
FILE - In this July 8, 2019, file photo, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach addresses the crowd as he announces his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Leavenworth, Kan. Per Aspera Policy, a group that ran ads promoting Kobach during his failed bid for Kansas governor, argues that it is not legally required to disclose its donors to the public. The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has given Per Aspera Policy until Jan. 15, 2020, to file public reports on its activities during the last governor's race. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
FILE - In this July 8, 2019, file photo, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach addresses the crowd as he announces his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Leavenworth, Kan. Per Aspera Policy, a group that ran ads promoting Kobach during his failed bid for Kansas governor, argues that it is not legally required to disclose its donors to the public. The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has given Per Aspera Policy until Jan. 15, 2020, to file public reports on its activities during the last governor's race. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
FILE - In this July 8, 2019, file photo, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach addresses the crowd as he announces his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Leavenworth, Kan. Per Aspera Policy, a group that ran ads promoting Kobach during his failed bid for Kansas governor, argues that it is not legally required to disclose its donors to the public. The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has given Per Aspera Policy until Jan. 15, 2020, to file public reports on its activities during the last governor's race. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
FILE - In this July 8, 2019, file photo, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach addresses the crowd as he announces his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Leavenworth, Kan. Per Aspera Policy, a group that ran ads promoting Kobach during his failed bid for Kansas governor, argues that it is not legally required to disclose its donors to the public. The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has given Per Aspera Policy until Jan. 15, 2020, to file public reports on its activities during the last governor's race. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A group that sponsored ads promoting conservative Republican Kris Kobach during his failed 2018 run for Kansas governor is arguing that it isn’t legally required to disclose its donors to the public.

The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has given Per Aspera Policy until Jan. 15 to file public reports on its activities during the last governor’s race. The commission warned the group in a notice this week that it could face a potential fine of up to $300 for each missing report and that intentionally failing to disclose the information is a misdemeanor.

ADVERTISEMENT

But a Washington attorney representing the group told the commission in a letter that it is not required to disclose any information under Kansas law because its ads did not “expressly advocate” for Kobach’s election. Its spots praised Kobach but did not specifically tell viewers to vote for him.

“We appreciate the Commission’s diligence with respect to this matter, but it appears the Commission has made an error in issuing this letter,” attorney Trevor Stanley wrote about the commission’s notice. “Per Aspera Policy is careful not only to comply with the letter of the campaign finance law, but also its spirit.”

Stanley did not immediately reply to phone and email messages seeking comment and more details about the group.

Mark Skoglund, the commission’s executive director, declined Thursday to say why it believes Per Aspera Policy is required to disclose its donors, citing “ongoing discussions” about the matter.

Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, is a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump who built a national profile over the past two decades by advocating for tough federal, state and local laws against illegal immigration. But his aggressive style also alienates some voters and he lost the governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly.

He is now running for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring four-term Republican Pat Roberts. Some GOP leaders fear that his nomination would give Democrats an opening to win their first Senate race in Kansas since 1932.

ADVERTISEMENT

The ethics commission’s notice to Per Aspera Policy went to a treasurer in the Washington area. The commission also sent it to an executive director in Idaho, but Stanley’s letter said in a footnote that the second person is not affiliated with the group.

A 15-second spot it sponsored during the 2018 governor’s race touted Kobach’s support for gun rights and his endorsement by the National Rifle Association, and it said Kelly “can’t decide where she stands.” A second, 30-second spot featured Kobach’s family, touted his views as representing “Kansas values” and said, “He knows what’s important because he lives it.”

Another 30-second spot portrayed Kobach as a successful budget-cutter who would make state government work better. It ended with, “Politicians talk a big game. But Kris Kobach delivers.”

Kobach’s spokeswoman, Danedri Herbert, said, “We did not coordinate with them.”

Kansas law defines a political action committee, as “a combination” of two or more people, with a major purpose to expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate or to make campaign contributions “or expenditures for” a candidate’s election or defeat.

The law defines “expressly advocate” by listing a series of phrases as examples, such as “Bob Jones in ’98” and “vote against Old Hickory.” It generally has not covered “issue” ads, in which candidates are praised or criticized for stances and viewers are told to call their offices or campaigns.

___

Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna