Lawmaker seeks investigation into Hawley’s disclosure of records under Sunshine Law

A Democratic state senator is asking the Missouri auditor to investigate whether public records generated by Attorney General Josh Hawley were properly disclosed under the state’s Sunshine Law.

At issue are records from Hawley’s time in office and his tenure as a professor at the University of Missouri.

Sen. Scott Sifton, a St. Louis County Democrat, wrote a letter to state Auditor Nicole Galloway on Tuesday asking for the investigation. Galloway’s spokeswoman acknowledged receiving the letter and said the office will “review the specific concerns.”

Sifton said his letter was inspired by a report last week by The Star revealing that Hawley received free representation from one of the most well-connected law firms in Washington, D.C., during his 2016 campaign for attorney general.

The legal work was related to an open records request by a former state representative who supported Hawley’s primary opponent in the attorney general race.

Hawley is now running for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill. His Senate campaign paid the same D.C. law firm $87,614 in the last three months of 2017 for legal expenses related to open records requests filed by the Democratic PAC American Bridge 21st Century and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“The motivation isn’t partisan,” Sifton said. “The person whose job it is to enforce the Sunshine Law is fighting it very hard and has been for a very long time. And that screams out to have an independent voice in the process.”

A spokeswoman for the attorney general said the office is happy to cooperate with the auditor.

The Sunshine Law requests revolve around documents from Hawley’s time as a law professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

An attorney with the law firm Cooper & Kirk PLLC, John Ohlendorf, represented Hawley for free in 2016 in a lawsuit over an open records request for Hawley’s emails and other documents. Two Democratic groups filed open records requests last year for emails and other records from his time at the university.

Sifton said the amount of money and energy Hawley is expending trying to fight off Sunshine Law requests is troubling, especially given his office’s role as enforcer of the Sunshine Law.

“He’s made a significant investment in trying to avoid sunshine on his own public records,” Sifton said. “The harder he tries, the more we have to scratch our head and wonder what’s going on here. That’s why we need an independent investigation. We can’t leave it to him to police himself.”

The public deserves assurances that “things are on the up and up,” Sifton said. “It would be different if he wasn’t fighting it so hard. But he is.”

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