Editor's note, Dec. 7, 2017: The Missouri Democratic Party asked us to take another look at the evidence after this fact check ran in November. The party’s spokeswoman provided us with examples of other units that Josh Hawley created with dedicated staffs. She argued again that the attorney general’s reference to a public corruption "team," rather than "unit," showed Hawley had not fulfilled his promise. We have added those examples, as well as more information from Hawley’s camp. After further review, our rating remains the same.
Democrats have accused Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley of breaking more than one promise.
Now, incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill’s campaign says he has broken another. McCaskill campaign manager David Kirby released a statement in response to Hawley’s announcement for Senate, addressing a vow to prosecute public corruption.
"He broke his promise to create a Public Corruption Unit to crack down on the pay-to-play culture of Jefferson City," Kirby said.
You can see the full statement below.
But Hawley’s office says he has kept that promise. Who’s telling the truth? Let’s find out.
During his attorney general campaign, Hawley promised to create a public corruption unit that would "take a more aggressive role in aiding local and federal prosecutors investigating allegations of corruption."
On the attorney general’s website, Hawley says he’s fulfilled his promise.
The page defines the group as a team that "actively investigates and prosecutes official abuses of power and other corruption to keep Missouri government honest and clean."
Hawley also referred to problems with "pay-to-play culture" in Jefferson City on the campaign trail. Pay-to-play is usually defined as money in exchange for services.
What Democrats say
When we reached out to McCaskill’s campaign for evidence, it pointed us to the Missouri Democratic Party.
The party sent us language it said was from Hawley’s campaign website that specifically promised to use the public corruption unit to end pay-to-play in Jefferson City.
"In addition to a public corruption unit, my ethics reform plan would prevent public officials from getting rich off the system, increase transparency, attack the pay-to-play politics of Jefferson City and ban lobbyist gifts to employees within the A.G.’s office — a ban that should be extended to the Missouri Legislature."
We couldn’t verify that ourselves because that passage no longer exists on Hawley’s website, but the party also pointed us to a quote from a debate Hawley did on 93.9, the Eagle.
"I have a plan to clean it up. I've announced that I would create a public corruption unit in the office of the Attorney General to coordinate local law enforcement, federal law enforcement, to prosecute, investigate and prosecute these public corruption crimes that have come to characterize Jefferson City and it's time that we took these measures," he said on May 17, 2016.
Team vs. Unit
Hawley’s website says he has a public corruption "team," not a "unit."
Meira Bernstein, a party spokeswoman, pointed us to six other units in Hawley’s office that have dedicated staff. They are the Federalism Unit, the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, and four units in the Public Safety Division.
"There is absolutely no reason he would call the Public Corruption Team a ‘team’ rather than a ‘unit,’ other than the fact that it is different than a unit," Bernstein said.
Here’s where we have to go back to the original promise. Hawley did not promise to create a public corruption unit "with dedicated staff." He promised to create a public corruption unit to "take a more aggressive role in aiding local and federal prosecutors investigating allegations of corruption." Whether he calls it a team or a unit, Hawley’s office provided substantial evidence proving he has done that.
When asked about the team versus unit argument, Hawley’s deputy chief of staff Loree Anne Paradise said, "When you look up the word ‘team’ on Thesaurus.com, ‘unit’ is listed as a synonym."
Does it matter?
Though Hawley made some indications he would use the group to address pay-to-play in Jefferson City, it doesn’t necessarily prove what Democrats are claiming.
Why? Because a public corruption team exists.
The group is led by Deputy Attorney General Darrell Moore. Other lawyers working on the team include First Assistant John Sauer and Deputy Attorney General Michael Martinich-Sauter. Paradise said attorneys within the Public Safety Division also provide support, such as Greg Goodwin, Travis Lilly, Steven Kretzer and Locke Thompson.
At the time of Kirby’s statement, the website page listed three cases the team has worked on. It now lists four cases, with the most recent press release dated December 1, 2017. Paradise said there are several other ongoing investigations that are not yet public.
Hawley’s office said they find these public corruption cases in three primary ways. They receive tips from government officials and law enforcement, find cases themselves by actively looking for them and receive complaints issued by the Missouri Office of Constituent Services.
After identifying a public corruption case, Hawley’s office said the investigation process requires complex analysis by a number of attorneys (depending on the case) and takes at least a couple of months.
Democrats say the group didn’t exist until the Missouri Democratic Party started asking questions.
Bernstein said the party made a Sunshine Request on July 12 for any emails regarding a public corruption unit. The next day, according to the Democratic Party’s timeline, Hawley sent a request that a page be created on his official website.
Paradise did not specify when the webpage was created but said the team was in play months before Democrats’ accusations.
The news release for the first case is dated April 5, 2017.
The corruption team has prosecuted officials in Mississippi, Cooper and Cass counties. No state legislators or other Jefferson City officials have been prosecuted.
McCaskill’s campaign manager said Hawley "broke his promise to create a Public Corruption Unit to crack down on the pay-to-play culture of Jefferson City."
Although Democrats contest when it was born and say he hasn’t used the team to crack down on "pay-to-play" in Jefferson City, the bottom lineis Hawley has prioritized prosecuting public corruption and created a team to make it happen.
Regardless of whether the group is a team or unit, Hawley’s office still has a working group of lawyers who have already prosecuted four officials for public corruption.
We rate this statement Mostly False.
Loree Paradise, email interview, Oct. 27th, 2017
Meira Bernstein, email interview, Oct. 24th, 2017
Josh Hawley Twitter, video, June 14th, 2016
Josh Hawley YouTube, video, Oct. 9th, 2017
Missouri Attorney General’s website, "PUBLIC CORRUPTION TEAM", 2017
Kansas City Star article, "Teresa Hensley-Josh Hawley race for Missouri attorney general has stark differences", Oct. 11, 2016.
Kansas City Star article, "Is Josh Hawley living up to his signature campaign pledge to fight public corruption?", Aug. 31, 2017
Missouri Democrats Article, "ICYMI: Hawley Tries to Cover Up the Fact that He Did Not Create a Public Corruption Unit", Aug. 31, 2017.
Missouri Democrats Article, "TIMELINE: Here’s How Josh Hawley Tried to Cover Up His Failure to Create a Public Corruption Unit", Aug. 31, 2017.
Oxford Living Dictionary, pay-to-play definition, 2017.
Missouri Attorney General Debate, 93.9 The Eagle, May 17, 2016.
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