Missouri ordered to pay $242K for open records law violations while Josh Hawley was attorney general
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri attorney general's office has been ordered to pay $242,000 in legal fees for violations of the state's open records law that occurred when U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley held the office.
Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled in November 2022 that the attorney general's office violated the open records law when documents were withheld from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during the Republican Hawley's successful Senate campaign in 2018.
Beetem ruled Wednesday that the office must pay $242,000 in legal fees, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“A big win for transparency, election fairness, and the rule of law,” Mark Pedroli, who represented the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said on Twitter.
Pedroli suggested that Hawley should apologize and pay the bill with proceeds from his book, “Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs."
Hawley's spokesman, Kyle Plotkin, responded that Democrats should return the money and apologize to Missourians for continuing the lawsuit after the requested documents were produced.
In 2017, the Democrats sought records of correspondence between Hawley's political consultants, OnMessage Inc., and employees of the attorney general's office.
The correspondence involved public business, Beetem said in his ruling. The judge said the then-records correspondent, Danie Hartman, has the records and knew his responsibilities under the law but told the Democrats the office had none of the requested records.
Beetem said the office also had documents corresponding to the Democrats’ second request in March 2018.
Beetem noted that The Kansas City Star obtained records between the attorney general’s office and OnMessage Inc. and reported in October 2018 that political consultants had helped to lead Hawley’s office.
“By failing to produce the requested records, Mr. Hartman and the AGO prevented an opposing party committee from accessing documents potentially damaging to then-Attorney General Hawley’s political campaign,” Beetem wrote.
The American Democracy Legal Fund then complained to Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft that Hawley appeared to have used public funds as attorney general to support his Senate campaign.
Ashcroft, a Republican, investigated the complaint but cleared Hawley's campaign of any misconduct.
Money to pay the fees typically comes from the state’s Legal Expense Fund, which is financed by the state’s general tax dollars.