A leading Democrat on President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission is suing the group, which is led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, alleging that it has violated federal law and that he has been frozen out from meaningful activities and information.
In the lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the legal team for Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap says that “despite diligent efforts to gain access, Secretary Dunlap has been, and continues to be, blocked from receiving Commission documents necessary to carry out his responsibilities.”
The new suit says that “the Commission’s superficial bipartisanship has been a facade” and alleges that the committee has violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Federal Advisory Committee Act, or FACA.
“The Commission’s failure to communicate with or involve Secretary Dunlap and other Democratic commissioners in proceedings renders them mere figureheads and violates FACA’s requirement that advisory committees be balanced,” the lawsuit says.
Never miss a local story.
Since its inception, the group has met twice.
“The Commission has, in effect, not been balanced because Secretary Dunlap and the other Democratic commissioners have been excluded from the Commission’s work,” the lawsuit says. “The Commission’s operations have not been open and transparent, not even to the commissioners themselves, who have been deprived access to documents prepared by and viewed by other commissioners.”
The committee features both Republicans and Democrats and has largely been led by Kobach, who serves as vice chairman.
According to the lawsuit, the commission has seven Republicans and four Democrats.
Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence are among the members listed as defendants in the lawsuit. The Kansas Republican also is running for governor.
Kobach said in a statement emailed to The Star that the lawsuit “is baseless and paranoid.”
He describes the commission’s work as being stalled from Sept. 12 to Oct. 17 by three factors: defending against lawsuits involving the commission, “the loss of commission staff due to an unrelated arrest of a staff member” and the death of a commissioner.
The Washington Post reported last month that a researcher for the commission was arrested after authorities found child pornography on his cellphone.
“It is not at all surprising that Commission staff were very busy during this period,” Kobach said in the statement. “Ironically, Dunlap’s lawsuit is only going to increase the workload faced by Commission staff and Department of Justice Attorneys.”
In a phone interview, Dunlap said he didn’t think he was asking for anything extraordinary.
“Look, I’m not asking for the nuclear codes,” Dunlap said. “I want to know what our schedule is. I want to know what we’re working on. I want to know who is doing what that’s generating all this media interest.”
If staff is working on nothing, Dunlap said, then that is an answer. But he isn’t getting answers, he said, and after a month of asking, he decided it was time to press the issue.
“But so far, there’s like nothing behind the curtain,” he said.
Trump’s voter fraud commission has generated controversy since it was created earlier this year.
“This lawsuit is another sign of the dysfunction both within the commission and its relation to others,” said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine. “It’s been unclear as to what, if anything, the commission is doing.”
As part of the committee’s work back in June, Kobach asked every state for “publicly available” voter roll data.
The committee sought the names of registered voters, their addresses, birthdays, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers if available, voter history and other personal information.
The request sparked widespread criticism and legal action.
Kobach stoked controversy about the commission in September when he made an unproven claim in a column for Breitbart that voter fraud probably changed the outcome of a U.S. Senate election in New Hampshire.
Those allegations prompted rebukes from Dunlap and New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a fellow commission member.
Shortly after the group’s second meeting, a February email surfaced that showed Hans von Spakovsky, another member of the commission, criticizing the idea of including Democrats and “mainstream Republicans” on the commission and saying their presence could “guarantee its failure.”
Politico reported in October that the Government Accountability Office plans to investigation Trump’s commission.
Both Trump and Kobach have claimed there was widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election, but neither has provided any clear evidence.