Two seasoned opposition researchers who recently published a tell-all on the ‘oppo’ business have come forward to identify Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as a subject of their investigations, citing his connection to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign as the reason that they are breaking their silence.
“We’re not here to name names,” Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian write in “We’re With Nobody,” which was published by HarperCollins last month, explaining why they do not disclose their subjects’ identities in the book.
But Huffman and Rejebian now tell me that they have decided to identify Kobach — an unpaid adviser to Romney who they say received funding from a “notoriously racist group” and once justified apartheid — because “it is actually important now.”
“If Mitt Romney were elected president, Kobach could assume a leadership role,” they said.
Kobach, who drafted Arizona and Alabama’s controversial immigration laws, told the Associated Press last week that he has been advising Romney on immigration policy since the beginning of the year. He endorsed the candidate on January 11.
“Kobach is a well-known immigration hardliner,” Huffman and Rejebian said in a written statement. “But we wanted to make sure that all the dots get connected, and that the whole story – the documented, true story — gets presented to the voters.” Kobach calls their story “a complete fairy tale.”
In their book, Huffman writes that “the Kansas candidate” received “significant funding from a notoriously racist group” while running for the state’s 3rd congressional district in 2004. He also writes that Kobach once wrote “that apartheid could be justified in the name of political stability.”
Following Huffman and Rejebian’s research, conducted in the summer of 2004, incumbent Democratic congressman Dennis Moore made a campaign commercial suggesting that Kobach had received campaign contributions from “people with ties to white supremacists.”
But in our conversation yesterday, Kobach told me that those allegations were “ridiculous.”
“That’s just flat out wrong,” he said. “It’s a smear campaign and it’s completely inappropriate.”
The donor organization in question is the U.S. Immigration Reform PAC (USIRPAC), which gave Kobach $10,000 in 2003 and 2004, according to the Federal Election Commission. USIRPAC President Mary Lou Tanton is the wife of John Tanton, the founder and board member of the Federation of American Immigrant Reform (FAIR), an organization that has been labeled a “nativist hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its hard stance against illegal immigration. Since 2004, Kobach has also worked on contract on a variety of cases for FAIR’s legal arm, the Immigration Law Reform Institute.
In 2009, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a report stating that FAIR was part of a network of “restrictionist organizations conceived and created by John Tanton, the ‘puppeteer’ of the nativist movement and a man with deep racist roots.”
Tanton “has met with leading white supremacists, promoted anti-Semitic ideas, and associated closely with the leaders of a eugenicist foundation once described by a leading newspaper as a ‘neo-Nazi organization,” the report states. “He has made a series of racist statements about Latinos and worried that they were outbreeding whites. At one point, he wrote candidly that to maintain American culture, ‘a European-American majority’ is required.”
But Kobach says that any suggestion that the USIRPAC is a “hate group” is inaccurate.
“The Immigration Reform PAC is not a notorious hate group,” he said. “It is just an organization that supports stronger enforcement against illegal immigration. The way the political operatives attempted to claim that it was a hate group was by six degrees of separation.”
According to the FEC, USIRPAC made donations to 36 House candidates in the 2003-2004 cycle, six of whom were Democrats, though no candidate received the five-figure donation given to Kobach.
Kobach also said that the quote used by the Kansas Democratic Party was “ripped out of context,” a move he described as “outrageous.”
On their website, the Kansas Democratic Party quotes the following passage from “Political Capital: The Motives, Tactics, and Goals of Politicized Business in South Africa,” Kobach’s Harvard thesis which won an award from the school and was published in 1990 by University Press of America:
“Clearly, reform has become the clarion call of so many businesses because it is seen as a means of achieving stability. Yet, strict Verwoerdian apartheid enforced with an iron fist can also be seen as a route to a more stable South Africa.”
Huffman confirmed that this was the passage he referred to in “We’re With Nobody” when he wrote that Kobach had written in defense of apartheid.
But it appears that Kobach’s words were indeed taken out of context. Kobach was citing the opinion of others who believed apartheid would lead to stability, but went on to point out that “many [businesses] gradually concluded after witnessing racial unrest that apartheid was unable to guarantee stability.”
“In that quote I am describing the views held by others, not views that I would hold,” Kobach told me. “I’m presenting that point of view and then suggesting why it’s wrong.”
“It would be ridiculous to think that the Harvard Center for International Affairs would give its award to a thesis that endorsed apartheid,” he added.
Huffman and Rejebian saw it differently.
“Michael and I are always excited to point the finger at racists,” Huffman writes in their book. “We were pleased, therefore, to discover that the Kansas candidate was also linked to the leader of a radical group that denigrated the region’s growing Latino population. Even more exciting was that the candidate himself had written that apartheid could be justified in the name of political stability.”
I reached out multiple times to multiple spokespeople with the Mitt Romney campaign to ask for their comments on Kobach’s history and on Huffman and Rejebian’s decision to come forward. They did not respond.
But Kobach was notably upset by Huffman and Rejebian’s work.
“This kind of dishonest — I’m not sure what you call it, it’s not journalism — this kind of dishonest stuff really pisses me off,” he said. “If they say what they’re doing is opposition research, they’re doing very shoddy opposition research. They should at least read the end of every paragraph they quote.”
Huffman and Rejebian, both Mississippi based journalists and political consultants, have been working in the ‘oppo’ trade for over 18 years, and reiterate frequently that they have no say in how campaigns or other organizations use the information that they are hired to unearth.
‘Oppo’ guys “find out everything there is to know about someone seeking higher power, and we turn it over to someone else and let them run with it,” they told me.
UPDATE: After reading the piece, Kobach writes:
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Racism is a very serious thing. To me, calling someone a racist is one of the worst things that you can say about a person. Especially when it is a complete lie.