Saturday’s New York Times reported on corporate efforts to cozy up to Republican secretaries of state, in part because of the influence those officials have in many states in crafting ballot initiatives. Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin was reported among those on a recent hunting trip in Kansas.
The Republican Party has institutionalized the strategy:
In 2015, the Republican State Leadership Committee — which includes secretaries of state, who are charged with ensuring fair and accurate elections — began a program to defeat liberal ballot initiatives on topics like the minimum wage, and to raise money from corporations that also wanted to kill these efforts.
Last month, Republican secretaries of state, including Martin, gathered in Kansas with the donors including, of course, a representative of Koch Industries. Democrats, too, have recognized potential in secretaries of state, but the reporting indicates the Republican effort is broader, more systematic and apparently quite successful.
In Arkansas, the secretary of state doesn’t write ballot titles. The legislature or citizens do, subject to change by the attorney general (now a Republican). But Mark Martin’s office reviews the sufficiency of signatures on citizen-initiated petitions. His office also oversees elections and, as we’ve seen, sometimes instigates voter purges based on faulty information.
Tobacco and gun money has poured into the Republican money-raising effort for secretaries of state. Gauging impact on ballot measures is hard to judge, but the article notes some improvements in the direction of financial supporters.
Vote suppression wasn’t mentioned in the article, co-published by Pro Publica, though secretary of state duties pertaining to trademark registration and corporate filings were. Given the proclivities of groups targeted for ballot suppression, you could see where corporate lobbies would find common ground with GOP efforts nationwide. Kris Kobach in Kansas has been a leader. Indiana and North Carolina have also waged persistent suppression efforts. And then there’s Mark Martin, in on the big feed in Kansas, who’s also done his part.
At the three-day hunt — where corporate donors and secretaries of state from Kansas, Mississippi, Georgia and Arkansas shared a one-story, wood-frame hunting lodge, with stuffed deer and elk antlers mounted on the walls — there was little discussion of formal election matters.
Instead, it was an opportunity for the corporate executives to cement personal connections. Together, they set loose Labrador retrievers on acres of prime high-grass hunting grounds, flushing pheasants and quail from their hiding spots.
“I was 60 yards away,” Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, said as he showed off two prairie chickens he had shot earlier in the day.
After a dinner of shredded beef, the state officials and political contributors, some in pajamas, drank beers. The only apparent disappointment the next morning, after their first hunting outing together as a group, was that they had bagged only 58 birds, two short of their legal limit.
Mark Martin in his jammies with the Koch posse? There’s something worthy of Instagram.