As his first official act since becoming attorney general, Republican Josh Hawley on Tuesday implemented a new ethics policy for his employees that prohibits them from accepting gifts from lobbyists.
“I said I would be part of the solution in Jefferson City, not part of the problem. And I said I’d take on the culture of corruption,” Hawley said Tuesday in an interview with The Star. “I think this shows that we’re serious about it. This is the first thing I’ve done in this office.”
In addition to banning employees from accepting gifts from lobbyists, the ethics policy also addresses some of the issues raised in a 2014 New York Times investigation that focused on former Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. It alleged that Koster gave preferential treatment to companies his office was investigating after donations were made to his political campaigns. He vehemently denied the allegations.
First, the policy prohibits Hawley’s employees from communicating about the business of the attorney general’s office with someone trying to lobby on behalf of a client unless that person is registered as a lobbyist under Missouri law.
The prohibition includes any attorney who, in the course of representing their clients, engages in conduct that falls within the scope of Missouri’s lobbying regulations. Hawley said the rule is designed to improve transparency and prevent corruption or abuse of power.
“This goes on a lot in attorney generals’ offices around the country,” Hawley said. “It’s a major loophole in many states.”
Hawley also will not accept campaign contributions from anyone who has a pending bid or application for state contract on which the attorney general’s office has decision-making authority. Lastly, Hawley won’t accept any contribution from someone under investigation by the attorney general’s office.
“We don’t know of an ethics policy in an attorney general’s office in the country that’s tougher than this one,” Hawley said.
After The New York Times article was published, Koster put a similar ethics policy in place, although it wasn’t as sweeping as what Hawley announced Tuesday.
The ethics policy is effective immediately, Hawley said. The attorney general’s office employee handbook has been amended to reflect the new policy, and employees will be required to sign an annual binding statement acknowledging they are in compliance.
Hawley’s move comes one day after Gov. Eric Greitens signed his first order banning state workers in the executive branch from accepting lobbyist gifts. Meanwhile, the Missouri House has fast-tracked a bill that would ban lobbyist gifts to state lawmakers.
It’s unclear whether Greitens’ order is actually enforceable, and a ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers faces an uphill struggle in the Missouri Senate. But Hawley said the emphasis on ethics reform by elected officials is hopefully a turning point in Missouri politics.
“It’s not a secret that we have a crisis in confidence in public institutions in our country,” Hawley said. “If people can’t expect their government to be honest and clean, they can’t expect anything from it.”