Audit: Missouri senator used state vehicles for campaigning

Political

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley made campaign stops while traveling in a state vehicle during his time as Missouri’s attorney general, an audit released Thursday found.

The review by the office of state Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democratic candidate for governor, found Hawley stopped for political events while using a government vehicle and security detail during his successful bid for U.S. Senate. Hawley, who was elected attorney general in 2016, unseated former Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill two years later.

The audit report says the driver and security detail took specific hours of leave from state time and were reimbursed by Hawley’s federal campaign fund. But auditors wrote that the state workers were not reimbursed for travel or other expenses related to the political stops.

In one example, Hawley in June 2017 took a government vehicle to Kansas City to meet with a police organization and a newspaper. But his itinerary also showed that he went to a local Republican Party event later that day. According to the audit, no campaign funds were used to pay the driver and security detail who accompanied Hawley.

Galloway’s office also found trips using state vehicles that included what appear to be personal stops, such as a December 2017 trip with his wife to a Kansas City Chiefs game that Hawley said he was asked to attend as part of his work as attorney general.

In a January email to auditors, Hawley’s attorney said he’ll pay any remaining expenses but isn’t aware of any outstanding invoices.

Past statewide officials have faced similar questions about their use of state vehicles. Then-Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon repaid more than $47,000 for using state vehicles and employees for political purposes, and Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder reimbursed the state more than $7,000 for nonofficial trips.

Other findings in the audit of Hawley include work between attorney general staff and Hawley campaign consultants that auditors wrote gave “the appearance of political activity by state employees while using state resources, but no evidence exists that any laws were violated.” The audit is critical of Hawley’s office for not better documenting those interactions and for using personal emails and phones to discuss public business, despite a policy adopted by Hawley forbidding that.

Claims that Hawley misused public resources to boost his successful U.S. Senate campaign were prompted by a complaint filed by The American Democracy Legal Fund, a liberal group, after The Kansas City Star reported political consultants influenced the attorney general’s office during Hawley’s tenure.

The newspaper obtained records that show out-of-state political consultants that went on to work for Hawley’s Senate campaign also advised his staff in the Attorney General’s Office. The records show campaign consultants gave direct guidance and tasks to Hawley’s state staff.

Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft in a December 2018 letter asked Galloway to “investigate these allegations as part of your audit of the Missouri Attorney General’s Office that will take place due to the change in officeholder.”

State law mandates audits of statewide elected officials after they leave office.

Hawley’s campaign blasted the audit as politically biased before it was even publicly released.

“With the 2018 election in the books and a full investigation having exonerated Mr. Hawley, one might have thought that Missouri Democrats would be ready to move on,” Hawley’s lawyer Brian Barnes wrote in a response to the audit. “But State Auditor and gubernatorial candidate Nicole Galloway apparently saw political advantage in retreading this ground.”

Galloway is running to unseat Republican Gov. Mike Parson in the November election. The Republican Governor’s Association political action committee, RGA Right Direction PAC, has launched digital ads targeting Galloway over what the group has described as a “politically motivated audit.”

Hawley’s lawyer also pointed to a staffer who worked on the audit and gave McCaskill a $50 campaign donation in 2018. In response to complaints from Hawley, Galloway’s office replaced the staffer with a new audit manager.

Other complaints raised by Hawley include Galloway’s hiring of former McCaskill campaign manager David Kirby to be the Auditor’s Office lobbyist.

The audit notes that Kirby “was excluded entirely from any discussions or decisions pertaining to this audit.”

Galloway in a Thursday statement said “there was no bias.”

“The unfair attacks by Senator Hawley in an attempt to deceive taxpayers about the nature of this audit are disturbing, but unfortunately, they are not surprising,” Galloway said. “My career staff carried out this audit professionally and in adherence to professional audit standards, sometimes in the face of abusive attacks.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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