Monday, May 29, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Missouri Secretary of State Faces Lawsuit From State Auditor

Republican Secretary of State John Ashcroft pushed back Wednesday on allegations by Democratic state Auditor Nicole Galloway that an investigation launched by his office is politically motivated.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Secretary of State John "Jay" Ashcroft pushed back Wednesday on allegations by Democratic state Auditor Nicole Galloway that an investigation launched by his office is politically motivated.

Galloway is currently in a heated race against Republican Gov. Mike Parson for the state’s top seat. With the election less than 30 days away, Galloway claims in a lawsuit filed late Tuesday night in Cole County Circuit Court that Ashcroft’s office lacks the legal authority to issue a subpoena for documents relating to a probe involving campaign finance violations.

“In less than 30 days before a major election, the Secretary of State is commencing an entirely unlawful investigation against another statewide elected official based upon a fatally flawed complaint from a dark money organization,” the complaint states.

But Ashcroft denies any such motivation. In a statement on his website, Ashcroft said the investigation is similar to the one his office launched against then Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is now a U.S. Senator.

Ashcroft added that Galloway helped with that investigation.

“Our office does not comment on ongoing investigations, but since Auditor Galloway has chosen to make this a legal and political fight, rather than simply complying with the Sunshine law, we felt the need to respond to this matter,” Ashcroft said in a statement.

He continued, “Our office made a very narrowly-tailored request for documents to the Auditor’s office – any emails or documents related specifically to an op-ed submitted to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch – in order to allow us to come to a quick resolution.

“Instead, her office failed to comply with the Sunshine law (as held in Gross v. Parson) by stating it would take them at least 30 days to provide our office the documents since our request was so large.  Because the Auditor’s office failed to comply with the Sunshine law, our office issued a subpoena for the emails.  So far her office has not cooperated, and instead has decided to fight the subpoena.”

Galloway seeks a judge’s order quashing the subpoena and an order blocking Ashcroft’s office from proceeding with the investigation due to lack of authority.

Galloway spokesman Scott Holste claims the subpoena was invalid in an emailed statement.

“The Secretary of State's Office sent a Sunshine Law request to the State Auditor's Office last week,” Holste said in the statement. “Rather than wait for the response that we indicated would be forthcoming, the Secretary of State has decided to inject partisan politics into his request a few weeks before an election. Not only does the Secretary lack the legal authority to issue such a subpoena, the demand was riddled with errors, including misspelling the Auditor's name and asking for documents with a response deadline more than six weeks in the past.”

Holste noted that Galloway’s office has already produced more than 138,000 pages of documents related to this matter.

Liberty Alliance USA submitted the complaint, claiming that an op-ed piece by Galloway that appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch submitted by Galloway on May 31, 2019 criticizing abortion legislation passed by state lawmakers and signed into law by Parson, was submitted to the newspaper by one of her state-paid press aides, violating state law barring the use of taxpayer dollars for campaign purposes.

Ashcroft’s office agreed to launch an investigation over Liberty Alliance’s claims.

Galloway said there is no law prohibiting her as a state official from speaking out on a variety of topics.

“Like other statewide officials, the State Auditor frequently states her opinion on matters important to the state and its citizens,” the complaint states. “The Auditor is consistently transparent and has frequently stated her position on matters impacting Missourians including the need for more robust parental leave, dark money’s corrupting influence in Jefferson City, the need to ban self-deleting apps in conducting public business, wasting taxpayer money through corporate giveaways to big businesses, and the questionable practice of state government awarding no-bid contracts.”

Galloway, in her complaint, argues that the bill was never a ballot measure and was published more than two months before her candidacy for governor, meaning there was no way it advocated or supported her campaign.

The complaint notes that Liberty Alliance waited 442 days to submit its complaint to Ashcroft’s office. It was dated Sept. 8. 2020, less than two months before the election.

Ashcroft, as mentioned in his statement, launched a similar investigation into Hawley in 2018 after a Democratic group claimed he used public resources to aid in his campaign for U.S. Senate.

Ashcroft later claimed his investigation was hindered due to his lack of subpoena power, the Post-Dispatch reported. State lawmakers in response approved a law giving Ashcroft’s office subpoena power to gain access to documents.

In her complaint, Galloway claims that law doesn’t apply to statewide elected officials based on a letter from Ashcroft to Hawley in 2018.

“This letter states unequivocally that a statewide office holder, such as the Attorney General or the Auditor, is not a political subdivision,” the complaint states.

“As such, an allegation against a statewide official under section 115.646 does not allege a plausible violation.”

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.