We need serious ethics reform in our government, especially in our Attorney General’s Office.
I have been investigating dark money corruption in Missouri since 2017. Dark money schemes most often funnel millions of dollars through fake charities to buy elections. This laundering process allows the donor to stay hidden because charities do not have to reveal the names of their donors. The public cannot see who is doing the buying.
This investigation led me to Missouri’s Attorney General, the person responsible for investigating fake charities.
But our Attorney General isn’t doing his job. Instead, he is benefiting from dark money contributions.
In response to questions about this topic, the Attorney General said he had a strong ethics and conflict of interest policy. My investigation has shown that claim is not true. The Attorney General’s anti-corruption policy is almost entirely unenforced, and the people of Missouri are the ones paying, literally.
The Attorney General’s Office is responsible for fighting public corruption. But our Attorney General’s Office has been corrupted by big money in politics. Just look:
Our Attorney General took dark money from a corporation he investigated for tax credit fraud.
The corporation stole millions in taxpayer dollars by collecting tax credits on properties it never spent money on, with $43 million in question. Our Attorney General settled with the corporation for a little over $300,000.
Before the settlement, our Attorney General fought for this corporation to access even more of these tax credits, and he received donations from the McKee family and its associates — the target of the tax fraud investigation. The dark money flowed shortly after the settlement. Because it was dark money, our Attorney General did not disclose the source of this latter donation. We only know the dark money donation came from a target of the Attorney General’s investigation because an investigative reporter uncovered it. Since then, more money tied to the McKees has entered our Attorney General’s campaign account through the Nexus PAC.
Our Attorney General also inherited a lawsuit against the housing development manager of the Clinton-Peabody Housing Complex in St. Louis, settled with the corporation for much less than was sought, and then accepted a political donation from a PAC heavily funded by the corporation.
Our Attorney General’s predecessor had documented mold, rodents, roaches, and poor living conditions at Clinton-Peabody and sought a significant penalty from the private management company. Six months after our new Attorney General took over, he settled the case. The company had to make some promises and donate $19,000 to a local nonprofit organization, avoiding much more substantial penalties for having people live in uninhabitable conditions. Our Attorney General recently took money from the Nexus PAC — the same one involving the McKees that is also heavily funded by the private housing development manager of Clinton-Peabody.
Our Attorney General has a PAC that can take unlimited contributions and corporate contributions.
Candidates are only allowed to take a maximum of $2,650 per person per election (so once for the primary election, once again for the general election). Our Attorney General has accepted $500,000 from billionaire Rex Sinquefield (including one donation of $250,000 during the time the Attorney General was reviewing the Better Together ballot initiative pushed by Sinquefield), over $400,000 in corporate donations, and $35,000 in dark money. Our Attorney General’s PAC’s average contribution since July 2018 is more than $15,600, almost 6 times the candidate limit. His PAC’s fundraiser was also the dark money fundraiser for former Governor Eric Greitens, who resigned over his dark money activities and whose dark money corruption has yet to be investigated by our Attorney General.
Our Attorney General has taken money connected to corporations installing illegal gambling machines throughout Missouri.
This money was donated to our Attorney General through two PACs: The Missouri Majority PAC and the Missouri Leadership PAC. Our Attorney General has refused to investigate these machines and the companies running them, despite multiple authorities determining they are illegal and despite the Attorney General’s consumer protection responsibility.
Our Attorney General has often claimed publicly that he has a strong conflict of interest policy in his office, but that policy is not enforced.
I investigated the Attorney General’s claim as part of my investigation into dark money corruption in Missouri. I found that the Attorney General does not follow his own conflict of interest policy.
Investigation into the Attorney General’s Conflict of Interest Policy
The Attorney General consistently states that he has a conflict of interest policy in his office. I investigated that claim and requested the policy using Missouri’s Sunshine Law. I received a response and the policy a little over a week ago.
The policy was instituted during Senator Josh Hawley’s brief tenure as Missouri Attorney General. It states that the Attorney General’s Office “must adhere to the strictest standards of ethics, integrity, and transparency.” The policy claims to impose the “toughest ethics standards in the Nation.” It states that the Attorney General will not take gifts from lobbyists or accept campaign contributions from anyone bidding for a state contract involving Attorney General decision-making authority or anyone currently under investigation by the Attorney General.
The policy is enforced using regular audits. Without audits, this policy is just words on a page.
Given the Attorney General’s choice to accept money from the subjects of his investigations, I requested any and all audits conducted by the Attorney General’s Office since the conflict of interest policy’s enactment under former Attorney General Hawley until the present.
No one is checking to see if the Attorney General is taking contributions from people he is investigating. Despite having a policy on paper, our Attorney General is not following it.
It’s a pretend policy designed to let him say he has one without having to abide by any real ethical standard.
Our Plan to Bring Ethics Reform to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office and Missouri Government
We need real ethics reform in our government. Conflicts of interest, lack of oversight, and unabashed corruption is plaguing Missouri. The Attorney General’s Office is the check-and-balance designed to prevent corruption, but it only works with an Attorney General who serves us, not big-money and hidden interests.
It’s time for a new Attorney General and real ethics reform in our government.
As Attorney General, here’s what I’ll do:
- We are going to prosecute public corruption. We will: investigate the use of dark money fake charities to hide political donations; coordinate with local and federal law enforcement to root out corruption; and bring accountability back to Jefferson City. Hidden big-money interests will no longer be able to buy our government. Read our plan to end dark money.
- The Attorney General will not take money from people he is investigating. The Office will actually be subject to regular independent audits to ensure compliance with this prohibition.
- The Attorney General will not keep donations previously received from the target of an investigation. If the Attorney General accepted donations within the last two years from the target of an investigation, those contributions will either be returned or donated to a Missouri charity.
- The Attorney General will not accept donations from targets of investigations after those investigations conclude, regardless of the outcome. This prohibition will last for the duration of the Attorney General’s tenure.
- The Attorney General will not take dark money. The people of Missouri deserve to know who is donating to their elected officials.
- The Attorney General will not take money above the contribution limits or devise a fundraising scheme to do so. Big money will not be able to influence the Attorney General’s decision-making.
- The Attorney General will not accept donations from people seeking state contracts over which the Attorney General’s Office has decision-making authority.
- The Attorney General and Office staff will not accept lobbyist gifts or gifts from targets of investigations.
- The Attorney General will not accept campaign contributions from any staff members.
- The Attorney General’s Office will implement strong whistleblower protections for its staff to prevent the Attorney General from exerting improper influence over investigations.
- The Attorney General’s Office’s Conflict of Interest and Ethics Policy will be regularly updated to deal with evolving threats to the integrity of the Office. Crooks, scammers, dark money operatives — they’re all looking for new ways to stack the process in their favor. The Attorney General’s Office needs to take these threats seriously and serve as a dynamic representative of the people of our state.
We need an Attorney General who will work for us.
No matter what policies we put in place, the integrity of the person serving as Attorney General is the most important part of ensuring the integrity of the Office.
That’s why we are the most transparent campaign in America, why we are not taking dark money, big money, or corporate money, and why we are laser-focused on rooting out corruption in our state. When our government serves us, we can focus on the many challenges we share, not just the pet projects of the powerful.
How You Can Help
We cannot do this without you.
You can help by spreading the word, volunteering for the campaign, and donating to our grassroots effort. So far, I have traveled over 30,000 miles and held over 260 meetings in our state in less than a year. To make sure our government serves us, we need to take back Missouri. That means we have to go to work.
Originally posted on Medium. Re-posted with permission.