Missouri Senator-elect Josh Hawley, who defeated Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill last month, is under investigation by the state’s secretary of state for using employees and resources from his office in his political campaign.
Hawley is the former attorney general of the state. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft was acting on allegations made by a Democratic Party-allied legal group.
The group wrote to Ashcroft on Nov. 2, days before the midterm elections, alleging that Hawley may have “used public funds as Attorney General to support his candidacy for U.S. Senate.”
The complaint came after reporting by the Kansas City Star. The Star reported on Oct. 31 that the advisers who would run Hawley’s U.S. Senate campaign also directed taxpayer-funded staff, confusing the office’s chain of command.
The advisers also worked to raise Hawley’s national profile soon after Hawley was inaugurated, the Star reported.
“This office will commence an investigation into the alleged offense,” Khristine A. Heisinger wrote to Brad Woodhouse, president of the legal fund. Heisinger asks Woodhouse to forward the secretary of state’s office any information he may have.
Like Hawley, Ashcroft is a Republican.
Mary Compton, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said the office was “delighted to cooperate.”
“We are delighted to cooperate with the Secretary of State’s Office and put these ridiculous allegations to bed once and for all,” she said in an email. “These allegations are totally meritless and nothing more than a partisan attempt to slander the work of the Attorney General’s Office.
That may be, but it’s very difficult for an elected state official running for another elected office to keep his campaign separate from his official duties entirely. In this case, there appears to be a conflict. Whether it rises to the level of a crime is the question Ashcroft must answer.
The agenda at various meetings with consultants Timmy Teepell and Gail Gitcho included official business such as the budget, staffing decisions, and how to roll out major policy initiatives against sex trafficking and opioid abuse.
Hawley said the outside assistance, which was financed by his state campaign fund, helped him in his first run for office.
“From Day One, we’ve made combating human trafficking, taking on the opioid industry, protecting Missouri consumers a top priority. And I came into office wanting to do that and you can see that reflected in everything, from our notes, our meetings, our calendars, all of that from the very first,” Hawley said at a campaign stop after the report.
If he has all this paperwork, it should make Ashcroft’s job fairly easy. But why have campaign consultants sitting in on a budget meeting?
Hawley appears to be a standup guy and certainly isn’t trying to hide anything. But once an investigation starts, there’s no telling where it will end. Hawley should hope Ashcroft can wrap up his probe before the end of the year or the senator-elect will enter office under a cloud.