How politics and government really work, and why they don’t.
While Donald Trump was running for the White House, he bashed politicians who courted the billionaire Koch brothers as “puppets” and vowed to “drain the swamp” in Washington by squelching cozy relationships between lobbyists and elected officials.
Take, for example, Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, who is reportedly on the short list to become Trump’s attorney general.
Last month, Kobach was among a group of Republican secretaries of state who spent the weekend hunting pheasant and quail and shooting clay pigeons with corporate donors at a Kansas lodge, a getaway funded by industry groups.
The attendees included Allen Richardson, a lobbyist for Koch Industries, who joked about keeping the guest list secret. “The Koch brothers out with the Republican secretaries of state — that’s a news story I don’t need,” he said, unaware that a ProPublica reporter was in attendance.
The Kansas outing was part of an effort by corporate and other special interests to build close ties with the secretaries of state, who not only oversee elections but often write the language in ballot measures on topics from gun control to the minimum wage.
The rest of Kobach’s record seems to mesh with policies promoted by Trump. Kobach has been at the forefront of the debate over the extent of voter fraud, successfully lobbying to become the only secretary of state in the country with the power to prosecute such cases. Arguing that the government must set up systems to prevent illegal immigrants from casting ballots, he successfully pushed for a Kansas law signed in 2011 requiring voters to show proof of citizenship.
Critics said Kobach overstated the threat, and that the rule would disenfranchise many black and Latino citizens. The Supreme Court settled the matter when it struck down a similar Arizona law in 2013, saying states couldn’t require proof of citizenship on the federal voter registration form.
Kobach then helped create a “two-tiered” voting rule in Kansas: Citizens who registered only on the federal form couldn’t vote in state or local elections. That too was eventually struck down by a district court in the state.
Before taking office, the Yale-educated attorney helped craft the controversial 2010 Arizona law that required police officers to ask people they suspected of being in the country illegally to produce immigration papers. That was also challenged and mostly dismantled.
Kobach has said that his concerns with illegal immigration intensified after the 2001 terrorist attacks. In a recent interview, he said he and other Trump immigration advisers are considering a registry for immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries.
In the past, Trump has criticized politicians who court Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who are top Republican donors but who declined to put their vast political money network behind his candidacy.
“I wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California to beg for money etc. from the Koch Brothers. Puppets?” Trump once tweeted about his competitors in the Republican primary.
Trump has already acknowledged the difficulty in stamping out the influence of lobbyists and donors. He was criticized for stocking his own transition team with corporate representatives, including lobbyists for telecommunications firms, oil and gas companies and the food industry. During an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes, he defended the apparent disconnect. “That’s the problem with the system,” he said. “The whole place is one big lobbyist … I’m saying that they know the system right now, but we’re going to phase that out. You have to phase it out.”
Clay Pigeons: How Lobbyists Secretly Woo Top Election Officials
Secretaries of state, who oversee ballot measures on topics from gun control to the minimum wage, are increasingly courted by interest groups and industries with billions of dollars at stake. Read the story.
On Wednesday, aides to Trump announced that lobbyists would no longer be allowed on the transition team, and members of Trump’s administration would be banned from lobbying for five years after they left their government posts.
Trump and Kobach did not respond to questions about Kobach’s attendance at the hunting weekend in Downs, Kansas, which was hosted by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a conservative fundraising group. Kobach and the other officials and donors sat in the common room and watched the second debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton on Oct. 9.
“Isn’t her voice like nails on a chalkboard?” Kobach said of Clinton.
He accused Clinton of planning to federalize state-run elections, an exaggerated fear that gained traction among conservatives.
“She wants to take down photo ID,” Kobach said, referring to the requirement to show identification before voting. “It’s just part of the effort of getting rid of the Electoral College. Have Department of Homeland security take over. I don’t need DHS in my state.”
Kobach later gathered the attendees to show off a gun manufactured by a company that he said he and two of his political donors had invested in. He also passed around two prairie chickens he shot. Then he took them to the kitchen, and filleted the birds himself.