(The Center Square) – It’s not what she wrote, but when she wrote it – as a state official or a campaigning politician? – at question in a messy legal battle between Missouri State Auditor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nicole Galloway and Missouri Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft.
Missouri lawmakers in May 2019 adopted House Bill 126, restricting abortion access. After Gov. Mike Parson signed the measure into law – but before a federal judge suspended its implementation – Galloway wrote a June 3 op-ed in the St. Louis Dispatch critical of the law.
Two months later, Galloway launched her campaign to unseat Parson in 2020. But a Sept. 8 complaint filed by Christopher Vas of Liberty Alliance USA with the Secretary of State’s office claims Galloway used her office to advance her candidacy.
“Evidence strongly suggests Galloway used public funds as Auditor to support her candidacy for Governor, by instructing her state, taxpayer-paid staff to place an op-ed in the St. Louis Post Dispatch accusing the Governor and lawmakers of passing a pro-life bill to ‘protect rapists,’” the complaint alleges.
Liberty Alliance states, “The published editorial served no official purpose of the Auditor’s office and instead attempted to advance the political aspirations of Galloway. This constitutes a misuse of public funds.”
By law, Ashcroft’s office has 30 days to determine if the complaint is actionable. It has not agreed to investigate, but on Sept. 29 subpoenaed records from Galloway’s office.
This week, Galloway challenged the legality of the subpoenas in a civil lawsuit filed in Cole County Court against Ashcroft.
According to the suit, "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 suit seeks a declaratory judgment, motion to quash and injunctive relief. It has been assigned to Cole County Presiding Judge Pat Joyce. No date is set.
In the suit, Galloway maintains when she wrote the op-ed, she had not decided to run for governor, the statute cited in the complaint doesn’t apply to state officials and, as state auditor, her office is responsible for fiscal analyses of proposed bills.
"It is reasonable and lawful for a statewide elected official, such as the State Auditor, to state her official opinion on matters of significant interest to the state and its citizens,” the suit states.
In her op-ed, Galloway wrote HB 126’s fiscal note estimated implementing the law would produce a $5 million hit to the state’s general revenue fund.
In a Wednesday statement, Ashcroft said his office is doing its job while Galloway is using her office to play politics, forcing him to subpoena requested records.
“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 reviewing the complaint, he said, his 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.”
The auditor’s office balked at the request “by stating it would take them at least 30 days,” Ashcroft said, prompting the subpoena.
“So far her office has not cooperated, and instead has decided to fight the subpoena,” he said. “In the spirit of transparency, we would like to encourage the Auditor to cooperate with this investigation. If her office would provide the documents which show there was no wrongdoing, we could close this investigation and move forward.”