Kobach’s U.S. Senate campaign, We Build the Wall hit by $30,000 fine for campaign law violations

Kobach’s treasurer from 2020 campaign sent $5,060 check to FEC

By: - December 31, 2022 1:50 am
Attorney General-elect Kris Kobach's 2020 campaign for U.S. Senate and the organization We Build the Wall were fined $30,000 by the Federal Elections Commission for violations of federal campaign finance law. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Attorney General-elect Kris Kobach’s 2020 campaign for U.S. Senate and the organization We Build the Wall were fined $30,000 by the Federal Elections Commission for violations of federal campaign finance law. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Attorney General-elect Kris Kobach’s campaign for U.S. Senate in 2020 violated federal election law by accepting and failing to report an in-kind corporate donation in the form of under-market rental of the We Build the Wall’s 295,000-person donor list.

The Federal Election Commission accepted settlement of complaints filed in 2019 by the Campaign Legal Center and Common Cause. The resolution endorsed by the FEC required We Build the Wall and the Kobach for Senate committee to pay a $30,000 civil penalty. On Dec. 6, Kobach for Senate campaign treasurer Elizabeth Curtis sent the FEC a check for $5,060 toward the fine. It’s not clear if Kobach’s campaign owes more.

The FEC agreed We Build the Wall also broke campaign finance law by making an in-kind contribution to Kobach by undervaluing its donor list. It was made available to Kobach at a bargain-basement price of $2,000 despite evidence the actual value was significantly greater.

Kobach, who served as general counsel to We Build the Wall, sent emails to the organization’s email list on July 18, 2019, and Aug. 1, 2019, announcing his candidacy and soliciting contributions from the organization’s past donors.

Here is an excerpt of Kobach’s pitch: “I was excited to welcome dozens of conservative leaders and media influencers like Donald Trump Jr., Michelle Malkin, Candace Owens and Congressman Louie Gohmert to the wall that we were only able to build because of your generous support. Our work to secure our border and protect the constitution is far from over. As you may have heard, I’ve decided to run for the United States Senate in 2020. I’m working hard to earn the support I need to win and, frankly, I need to get you on my team.”

Kobach asked potential donors to contribute $50, $100, $250, $500 or any amount up to the maximum of $2,800 by clicking a link on the solicitation.

“I want to represent you in the United States Senate the same way I’m going to continue to represent We Build the Wall as general counsel,” Kobach’s pitch said. “With your support, I know we are going to get the job done.”

We Build the Wall and Kobach’s campaign initially claimed the rental rate of $2,000 for the We Build the Wall donor list “was consistent with market rates for non-candidate lists, but now agree that it was significantly below the usual and normal rate for comparable political list rentals,” the FEC said.

In August 2019, Campaign Legal Center and Common Cause filed the FEC complaint alleging We Build The Wall’s solicitation on Kobach’s behalf violated the federal prohibition on corporate facilitation of contributions to candidates. Campaign Legal Center is a nonpartisan organization making use of litigation and policy advocacy to help eligible voters meaningfully participate in the democratic process at all levels of government. Common Cause, founded in 1970 as the “people’s lobby,” also filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.

In the August 2020 Republican primary for U.S. Senate, then-U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall won the nomination with 40.2% of the vote. Kobach, who had served two terms as Kansas secretary of state, came in a distant second in the 11-candidate field with 26.1% of the primary vote.

Kobach won a three-candidate primary for the GOP nomination for attorney general in August. In September, during a successful general election for attorney general, Kobach resigned from the board of directors of We Build the Wall Inc. The nonprofit was at that time facing allegations of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering after allegedly bilking thousands of people who financially supported the group’s mission of building a wall along the border.

Kobach said he wasn’t involved in criminal conduct related to We Build the Wall. He wasn’t indicted by federal prosecutors along with Steve Bannon, who worked in the White House for President Donald Trump.

Lawyers representing We Build the Wall and the Kobach Senate campaign signed the FEC settlement agreement before Kobach narrowly won the campaign for attorney general against Democratic Party nominee Chris Mann. The FEC voted Nov. 16 to affirm the resolution. Kobach will be sworn into office Jan. 9 as the state’s top law enforcement officer.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.