A Cole County judge has dismissed a lawsuit alleging that a Republican state senator was violating Missouri’s open records law.
Missouri Alliance for Freedom, a Kansas City-based nonprofit with ties to leaders in the Missouri GOP, filed the lawsuit in July against Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican. The group wanted Schaaf to turn over records of his communications with staff and outside individuals.
Schaaf refused, noting that the Missouri General Assembly has argued for years that the state’s Sunshine Law doesn’t apply to individual state representatives and senators or their staff.
Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetum dismissed the lawsuit Wednesday, concluding that the judicial branch doesn’t have the jurisdiction to decide the case.
Ben Hurst, the attorney for the Missouri Alliance for Freedom, said it was reviewing the decision.
“Today the court does not hold that Senator Schaaf has complied with Missouri’s public records laws,” Hurst said by email. “Instead, the Court has, out of respect for a coordinate branch of government, declined to reach that question.”
Schaaf said Wednesday that the decision to sue him had nothing to do with the state’s Sunshine Law. Instead, he argued, the lawsuit was an attempt to derail his legislative efforts to force political nonprofits like Missouri Alliance for Freedom to disclose their donors.
“This lawsuit was filed over the issue of dark money,” Schaaf said. “It was filed because they wanted to intimidate me into not pushing for the disclosure of dark money. And it isn’t going to work.”
Missouri Alliance for Freedom’s president, Kristen Blanchard Ansley, said in an email that “the Missouri Sunshine Law is not an instrument of intimidation — it’s an instrument of transparency in government.”
The Missouri Alliance for Freedom has been a longtime critic of the General Assembly’s refusal to comply with the Sunshine Law. The legislature’s interpretation of the law has been questioned by critics but never directly addressed by a Missouri court.
Schaaf said Wednesday he supports an initiative petition that could appear on the state ballot later this year that would require the legislature to abide by the Sunshine Law.
The nonprofit was founded in 2013. Ansley is the former acting executive director of the Missouri Republican Party. Its secretary is James Thomas III, a Kansas City attorney tied to numerous campaign committees used over the years by Republican political consultant Jeff Roe.
Missouri GOP Chairman Todd Graves’ law firm is representing the nonprofit in its lawsuit. St. Joseph businessman Stan Herzog is believed to be one of its primary donors.
The nonprofit also has sued Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, arguing she also refused to turn over requested documents. Galloway’s office has said they it has worked to fully comply with the request, including turning over more than 24,000 pages of documents at no charge.