Legislators scrapped a plan Thursday to audit the contracts and expenses tied to former Kansas Commerce Secretary Antonio Soave, who was terminated from his position this summer and accused of handing out government contracts to friends and business partners.
Republican Rep. John Barker, who chaired the committee overseeing legislative audits until Thursday, had approved two audits related to Soave, but members voted them down 5-3 on a motion offered by Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, had sought the audit to look into allegations against Soave and said he was disappointed it got rejected.
“Apparently the majority in this committee doesn’t believe in transparency and trying to get at the truth in terms of what Soave’s actions were,” Hensley said.
The Kansas City Star reported in November at least nine of Soave’s friends or business partners had received contracts in his 18-month tenure as secretary. Gov. Sam Brownback, who appointed Soave, acknowledged he entered into inappropriate consulting contracts as secretary and was ultimately terminated.
Soave began running for Kansas’ 2nd District Congressional seat but dropped out amid the allegations.
Arguing against the audit, Lynn said there was nothing legally inappropriate in Soave’s actions.
“I think this is something that we should put behind us as bad judgment on the part of the previous secretary in some cases and we should move on and maybe look at some other remedies when we have the information about what’s in statute regulating those processes,” Lynn said.
Lynn said she had been assured by the current commerce administration they follow statute on contract procurement. She said the state had laws to prevent any rush to judgment on what Soave did.
“Accusations were reported, and it appeared to me that there was a rush to judgment in that reporting,” Lynn said.
Lynn said she thought it was wise for that reason to hand the investigation to Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
Barker, too, argued Schmidt should handle any investigation first so an audit would not impede his investigation.
“There was some concern because of the possibility of — not saying there is or there isn’t — the possibility of some criminal activity, and of course, who’s best to look at that? The attorney general,” Barker said.
Hensley argued such audits can uncover wrongdoing. He pointed to Bill Caton, who directed the Kansas Development Finance Authority, and faced criminal charges for submitting false expense vouchers because of an investigation by legislative auditors. Hensley criticized Barker for voting against the audits after initially approving them.
“Your word is your bond, and when you make a commitment, you need to stand by your commitment, but obviously, he chose not to,” Hensley said.
Hensley also argued the audit would aid any potential criminal investigation Schmidt might choose to undertake.
“The idea of turning it over to the attorney general is just an excuse,” Hensley said. “That’s all this is — to sweep this under the rug.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.