BuzzFeed sues Kris Kobach over denied records requests
Oct. 24, 2017
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — BuzzFeed Inc. is suing Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and his office for refusing to release emails containing any of 30 terms that relate to immigration or the election.
The lawsuit comes after a BuzzFeed reporter asked Kobach's office in June for emails sent or received May 1 that include terms such as ICE, immigrant, Trump, voter, fraud and Mexican. The secretary of state's office at first asked for $1,025 for 13 hours of work and an attorney's review, then refused to release any records when the reported challenged the cost, according to the lawsuit filed Friday in Shawnee County District Court.
BuzzFeed is asking that Kobach's office be ordered to provide the documents and pay for attorney fees, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported .
Kendall Taggart, an investigative data reporter for BuzzFeed, sought the information under a Kansas records law. BJ Harden, deputy secretary of state for policy, said fulfilling the request would require a staff administrator to work 13 hours for a total of $325. And a staff attorney would need 20 hours to review the documents, adding $700 to the cost.
Taggart also cited public interest in Kobach's work and lower hourly rates charged by other agencies.
Sue Becker, senior counsel for the Secretary of State, replied that much of Kobach's work, such as with the White House, immigration or presidential advisers, is not Kansas-related business. She said six of the 30 terms — voter, voting, fraud, illegal, alien and noncitizen — are covered by the open records act but then cited exemptions in that law for notes, memoranda or recommendations in which a policy or action is proposed.
BuzzFeed's attorneys argued in the lawsuit that the open records law doesn't include a requirement that the records involve "official business." They also argue that Kobach has made "well-known official statements and positions on these issues as Secretary of State for Kansas," including in testimony before Congress and that the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity identifies Kobach by his state title. BuzzFeed also contends the law requires redactions for policy proposals, rather than a rejection of the entire request.
A spokeswoman for Kobach didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday from The Associated Press.
Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com