TOPEKA — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has drawn criticisms for months from fellow gubernatorial candidates looking to distance themselves from the controversial national figure, but now he faces a newly formed fundraising committee dedicated to stopping him from becoming Kansas’ chief executive.
“StopKobach,” a Wichita-based political action committee, formed in August, according to campaign finance records. Director Michael Hoheisel said the group is working to establish its board and build a website before members go public.
Hoheisel already has launched a website in opposition to Kobach and his policies with domain names he bought years ago predicting Kobach would run for higher office. Kobachforkansas.com and kobachforgovernor.com direct viewers to anti-Kobach messages.
The seemingly rare candidate-specific PAC is made up of members from across the political spectrum and plans to target Kobach with political advertisements as he campaigns during the next year to become Kansas’ governor, Hoheisel said. Launching a website using domain names Kobach’s campaign might be interested in was an idea he took from presidential races.
“This is kind of the next step in an evolution of groups and people that have been in contact over the last six years,” Hoheisel said.
Hoheisel, a home contractor, said StopKobach was formed through contacts he made throughout the years working in organizing and advocacy. He was involved in a few Democratic campaigns several years ago, including Donald Betts Jr.’s and Raj Goyle’s bids for Kansas’ Fourth District U.S. House seat in 2008 and 2010.
To have a political action committee that expressly opposes one particular candidate is rare, said Washburn University political science professor Bob Beatty.
“What we normally see is generic-sounding names of PACs that actually do target one person, so this is quite unusual to have a PAC that specifically targets a candidate,” Beatty said. “And of course, it’s because Kobach has become a national figure and a controversial figure, and so there’s going to be some people who believe that a better strategy to raise money is to use his name.”
Beatty said he thought some donors would want to be associated with being against Kobach. He said to many, Kobach represents more than one election or one office.
“His opponents actually see him as a threat to what America is all about, and his defenders see him as defending what America is all about,” Beatty said. “And when you get into those deep issues, they’re going to name him by name.”
Kobach has focused his work on advocating strict requirements for voters. He has made unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud committed by non-U.S. citizens. President Donald Trump made him vice chair of his commission on election integrity.
StopKobach members likely won’t give money to other candidates’ campaigns, Hoheisel said. Instead, they will focus on messaging.
“We’re intending to just focus solely on Kris Kobach and his positions that might be at odds with a lot of people — in his own party even,” Hoheisel said. “There’s a lot of Republicans out there who aren’t too crazy about the consolidation of powers or giving people increased powers in the governor, and Kobach’s expanded his role as secretary of state.”
Kobach gained the ability to prosecute cases of alleged voter fraud in 2015 and has obtained just nine convictions, one for illegal voting by a non-citizen. Hoheisel said he opposes strict voting politics Kobach has advocated to combat supposed voter fraud and his stances on removing undocumented immigrants.
“It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and it makes it a little easier to sleep at night if you try and do something about it,” Hoheisel said.
For now, Hoheisel has his anti-Kobach website. He said he got the idea when he saw presidential candidates struggle with mocking web pages that used official-sounding URLs.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Democratic and Republican candidates were mocked by websites built using URLs intended to seem like they could be a legitimate campaign website until viewers visited the site. Often these websites’ owners bought the .org version of a campaign website or a URL that sounded like it could be the official campaign address.
Hoheisel also bought kobachforsenate.com not knowing exactly what Kobach would run for.
“Essentially, I’m just trying to do a little bit of mischief from the outside as of right now,” Hoheisel said.
He said Kobach’s campaign has not contacted him to buy the domain or get the website taken down. Kobach’s campaign did not return multiple requests for comment.