Republican lawmakers Thursday rejected a call for audits of the Kansas Department of Commerce after reporting by The Kansas City Star on state contracts that went to friends and associates of former agency head Antonio Soave.
The audits, requested by Senate Minority leader Anthony Hensley, fell on a 5-3 vote in the Legislative Post Audit Committee.
“Apparently the majority on this committee doesn’t believe in transparency and trying to get at the truth in terms of what Soave’s actions were,” said Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.
The audits had already received preliminary approval from the committee’s chairman and would have continued had there been no objection.
Soave, who stepped down as Gov. Sam Brownback’s Commerce secretary in June, was running for Congress in Kansas’ 2nd District last year when The Star began examining state contracts from Soave’s office. The Star identified at least nine of Soave’s friends or business partners who had landed state contracts for consulting and marketing services during his 18 months as secretary.
Soave, who subsequently dropped out of the congressional race, could not be immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Soave has previously said that he followed all rules with the contracts and that his consultants helped reduce the agency’s overall costs.
Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican and the former post audit chairman who initially approved the audits, said the state’s attorney general should look at the issue first.
“There was some concern because of the possibility of, and not saying there is or there isn’t, possibility of maybe some criminal activity,” Barker said. “And of course, who’s best to look at that? The attorney general.”
That sentiment was echoed by other Republicans on the audit committee.
“I really think that if it’s bad like somebody thinks it is, let’s get it to the (attorney general),” said Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican. “Let the AG do an investigation to where we don’t mess up some evidence and then all of a sudden you can’t do anything with it.”
Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican, voted to reject the audit. Lynn led the Senate’s commerce committee during the entirety Soave’s tenure.
“These accusations were reported, and it appeared to me that there was a rush to judgment in that reporting,” Lynn said. “Or on what happened or didn’t happen. And that’s really the worst thing that can happen and that’s what our laws are in place for, is to prevent a rush to judgment.”
The Star reviewed dozens of state contracts and the governor confirmed that these contracts played a role in the decision to terminate Soave’s cabinet position after the story was published.
Hensley, the Democratic leader, said he planned to write a letter to the attorney general. His two audit requests were to evaluate a sample of the former secretary’s expenses and to evaluate a sample of the contracts awarded under Soave.
“I’m not going to drop this thing,” Hensley said.
The Star’s Bryan Lowry contributed to this report.