Editorials

Hawley’s political use of staff was definitely hypocritical — and potentially illegal

Political consultants’ role in Hawley’s AG office raise concerns

Consultants worked to raise Josh Hawley's national profile and helped direct the state office's work, records show.
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Consultants worked to raise Josh Hawley's national profile and helped direct the state office's work, records show.

It’s against the law to use public resources in a state office for political purposes. On-the-clock office time of a state employee does qualify as a public resource.

And records that Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office released on Friday confirm that state employees often did take direction on how to spend their work hours from the out-of-state political consultants hired to raise Hawley’s national profile. Those consultants soon wound up running Hawley’s successful U.S. Senate campaign against Democratic Sen Claire McCaskill.

As reported by The Star in October, Hawley’s staff used private email to communicate with national consultants Gail Gitcho and Timmy Teepell, who held regular conference calls with state employees during office hours and handed out assignments to state staff. All this began soon after Hawley, who ran for attorney general on the promise that he would not be a typical “ladder-climbing” politician, took office in 2017.

“Jefferson City is full of career politicians just trying to climb the ladder, using one office to get another,” Hawley said as a candidate. “I think you deserve better.”

If his politicization of office staff time is not illegal, it is at a minimum some dizzyingly high-octane hypocrisy.

The documents show that consultants were involved in many aspects of the attorney general office’s work, including communications, policy, administration, personnel and asking employees to compile a list of legislators it would be helpful to get to know.

After The Star’s story ran, the liberal American Democracy Legal Fund founded by David Brock filed a complaint with the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office accusing Hawley’s office of using public resources to support his campaign.

In response to the complaint, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a fellow Republican, launched an investigation. It’s to Ashcroft’s credit that he requested the cooperation of the office of Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, who has the subpoena power that Ashcroft’s office does not.

They will look into whether the political consultants directed the attorney general’s staff to do work that was political in nature.

There is no record of public funds going to Gitcho and Teepell, and Hawley’s office has deemed the complaint “frivolous.”

But a 2010 code of conduct manual for the Missouri attorney general’s office defines state resources as, “an employee’s position, time, benefits, state supplied materials, equipment and vehicles. State resources also include documents, records and confidential information that an employee would not have come into contact with but for his/her work at the AGO. State resources also include the subject matter and work product arising from actions in which the AGO participates, has participated or is likely to participate. It is every employee’s duty to use state resources solely for the purpose for which the resource was provided, for the benefit of the state and the performance of his/her job duties.”

It does not explicitly say that trying to get the attorney general elected to the U.S. Senate from the moment of his election as attorney general is not a job duty that would benefit the state. But then, the naifs who wrote that manual did not see Josh Hawley coming.

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