Politics & Government

Kris Kobach’s run for U.S. Senate praised during We Build The Wall border conference

An official speaker at a We Build The Wall conference last weekend praised the U.S. Senate bid of Kris Kobach, who works as the group’s chief lawyer.

“The only way I can think of (to toughen border enforcement) is you re-elect President Trump with a huge majority, then you send people to the Senate that will perhaps have new leadership installed – people like oh, let’s say, I know, Kris Kobach. That’s right,” said former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo on Saturday as he sat next to Kobach.

“It’s the only way I can think of,” added Tancredo, a We Build The Wall advisory board member. The audience at the Symposium at the Wall applauded.

Kobach’s campaign emphasizes that it is completely separate from We Build the Wall, a non-profit that uses donations to construct a border wall. But the support for Kobach at the event in New Mexico shows how the line between his candidacy and We Build the Wall can become fuzzy.

The former Kansas secretary of state has said he plans to continue serving as general counsel for We Build The Wall as he runs for Senate.

The symposium brought together a variety of conservative voices and was headlined by Steve Bannon, a former adviser to President Donald Trump. We Build the Wall hosted and co-sponsored the event, along with Numbers USA, Citizens United and other groups.

Kobach’s campaign manager Steve Drake also attended and posted a photo to Facebook of him posing with Brian Kolfage, who founded We Build The Wall after a Go Fund Me account raised millions for a border wall.

Asked about Tancredo’s comments and Drake’s attendance, Danedri Herbert, a Kobach campaign volunteer, said in an email: “If you do your homework, you will learn that Rep. Tancredo has been saying positive things about Kris publicly since about 2003. His comments are nothing new. Nor were they requested by the campaign. That does not establish any connection between the two organizations.”

Herbert also said Drake’s travel was not paid for by the campaign and that he does not have any association with We Build The Wall “other than his desire to attend an excellent event at the wall.”

Kolfage said any comments made by speakers at the event were their own and not an endorsement by We Build The Wall.

“If Mr. Tancredo personally supports and endorses Mr. Kobach for Senate it is a personal endorsement,” Kolfage said in an email.

But Kolfage added that he personally endorses Kobach for Senate. Kobach has “done an incredible job working for me and played a pivotal role navigating the DC swamp.” He said We Build The Wall’s barriers would not be going up without Kobach’s relationship to Trump.

Kolfage also said that he and Drake first met over the weekend.

Lloyd Mayer, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, said Tancredo’s comments don’t appear to “cross any federal tax law or federal election law lines.”

We Build The Wall, as a 501c4 nonprofit, is allowed to support candidates as long as its primary purpose is other, social welfare promoting activities.

“The nonprofit is allowed to endorse candidates to the general public under federal election laws as long as the announcement of the endorsement was not coordinated with Kobach,” Mayer said. “So even if (former) Rep. Tancredo’s statements were attributed to the nonprofit, they would not cross any legal lines as long as they were not coordinated with Kobach.”

We Build The Wall was formed in December 2018. Kobach, who left elected office in January, has worked for the group for much of the time since then.

The group has encountered obstacles and angered officials as it has built its first strips of wall. A federal agency that enforces boundary and water treaties between the United States and Mexico identified a number of problems with We Build The Wall, including security concerns with the location of a wall in New Mexico.

Kobach’s run comes after an unsuccessful run for governor last year. In a video released Thursday, Kobach said he “failed to anticipate just how powerful the propaganda would be” against his last campaign.

Bryan Lowry contributed reporting from Washington.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle

Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.
Jason Hancock is The Star’s lead political reporter, providing coverage of government and politics on both sides of the state line. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he has written about politics for more than a decade for news organizations across the Midwest.