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With election looming, Ashcroft announces probe of GOP complaint against Galloway

With election looming, Ashcroft announces probe of GOP complaint against Galloway

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Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway files to be candidate for governor

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway arrives at the Missouri Secretary of State's office in Jefferson City with her son Joseph Galloway, 3, to file paper to become a candidate for governor on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has agreed to investigate Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway over a GOP group’s allegations of campaign finance violations.

In a letter obtained by the Post-Dispatch Wednesday, Ashcroft’s office is requesting cooperation from the auditor in its pursuit of a complaint filed Sept. 9 by Liberty Alliance, a not-for-profit organization trying to get Republicans elected.

The move by Ashcroft comes as fellow Republican Gov. Mike Parson and Galloway are duking it out heading into the Nov. 3 election.

The auditor’s office said the group’s effort is “nothing more than a political stunt.”

“This frivolous complaint is an attack by a partisan, dark-money group that has repeatedly targeted this office and the work of the State Auditor,” Galloway spokesman Scott Holste said. “This office will review and respond, as we always do, in compliance with the law.”

Liberty Alliance says an opinion piece by Galloway that ran in the Post-Dispatch last year focusing on a restrictive state abortion law 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.

The auditor’s office said there is no law prohibiting her, as an elected statewide officeholder, from speaking on any variety of topics. A spokesman for her campaign earlier called the premise of the complaint “absurd.”

Liberty Alliance USA is owned by Cornerstone 1791, a 501(c)(4) organization incorporated in Missouri in February 2019, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission. While the organization says it won’t be backing specific candidates, Liberty Alliance has close ties to once-powerful figures within the Missouri GOP, including ex-party chairman Todd Graves, an ally of former Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in 2018.

Missouri Alliance for Freedom, whose lead attorney also represents Liberty Alliance, sued Galloway in 2017 over alleged violations of the state’s open-records law. A Cole County circuit judge ruled in Galloway’s favor in January 2019.

In 2018, Ashcroft launched a similar investigation into Josh Hawley after a Democratic group alleged Hawley, then serving as attorney general, may have used public resources to boost his successful campaign for U.S. Senate.

Ashcroft, a Republican, later said he was stymied in his attempt to uncover information because he didn’t have the ability to subpoena records. In response, the Legislature approved a change in law giving the secretary of state the power to force the turnover of documents.

Like Galloway, Hawley at the time called the complaint “frivolous.”

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