Missouri AG’s office fined $12,000 for Sunshine Law violation under Josh Hawley

Missouri AG’s office fined $12,000 for Sunshine Law violation under Josh Hawley
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Before MAGA Republican Josh Hawley became a U.S. senator, he was Missouri’s state attorney general. Hawley left the Missouri Attorney General’s Office in January 2019, when he was sworn into the U.S. Senate. And according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that office is now being fined because of Missouri Sunshine Law violations that occurred when Hawley was the charge.

The Post-Dispatch’s Jack Suntrup, in an article published on November 15, reports that Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem has “concluded” that the Missouri Attorney General’s Office “retained records the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sought in two Sunshine requests under Hawley, but that the office didn’t turn them over, ‘in violation of the Sunshine Law.’”

The Missouri Sunshine Law is an example of a freedom-of-information law at the state level and has been on the books since 1973. The law was passed seven years after the Freedom of Information Act of 1966, a federal law, was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

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“Beetem fined the (Missouri) Attorney General’s Office $12,000 and also ordered the agency to pay attorney’s fees and costs,” Suntrup reports. “The DSCC took issue with the state’s handling of requests filed in September 2017 and March 2018. Its lawsuit was filed in 2019.”

Suntrup adds, “In September 2017, the DSCC asked for records of correspondence with the OnMessage Inc. political consulting firm. At the time, the then-records custodian, Daniel Hartman, ‘had correspondence on his personal e-mail account between AGO employees and individuals from OnMessage Inc. concerning public business,’ according to the ruling.”

Beetem, Suntrup notes, “also said the office retained documents responsive to the Democrats’ second request in March 2018.”

“Hartman asked a state worker to locate responsive records, and the staff member found 42 records, the majority of which ‘were responsive’ to the DSCC request,” according to Suntrup. “But ‘the AGO failed.... to produce the responsive documents it located in March 2018,’ Beetem said.”

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Beetem was not subtle when he handed down his ruling.

The Missouri judge declared, “The AGO failed.... to produce the responsive documents it located in March 2018…. 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.”

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