A new state audit found that Josh Hawley, the former Missouri attorney general and now U.S. senator, inappropriately though not necessarily illegally mixed campaign activities with the duties of staffers in the attorney general’s office. That’s bad in any context, especially in the wake of President Donald Trump’s impeachment over abusing his office for political gain. Hawley, one of Trump’s most outspoken defenders, is spluttering protests over State Auditor Nicole Galloway’s findings.
We have to ask, however: Would Galloway apply to her own office the same high ethical standards she applies to Hawley and others? She chided Hawley in the audit released Thursday, citing state law prohibiting the use of state employees and resources to advance a political campaign or ballot measure. She outlined multiple instances in which Hawley crossed the line by having outside campaign consultants meet with his taxpayer-funded staffers to coordinate ways to boost Hawley’s public image ahead of his Senate run.
Weeks before Galloway announced her own campaign for governor last summer, she had her press secretary, Steph Deidrick, email an op-ed to this newspaper excoriating Gov. Mike Parson’s decision to sign a new law imposing draconian restrictions on abortion rights. It was our mistake to publish the op-ed before asking Deidrick what, exactly, do abortion rights have to do with Galloway’s official auditing duties. In fact, the topic has nothing to do with those duties but everything to do with Galloway’s effort to position herself on a key political issue just before announcing her gubernatorial campaign against Parson.
The Galloway campaign’s Twitter account posts a link to that op-ed. Why did Galloway assign a state employee to use a state office and state email account for what was clearly a personal political mission? It might not be illegal, but it certainly doesn’t pass the smell test. Nor is it consistent with the laudably high standards Galloway sets when auditing other government offices and officials.
Galloway also failed to answer serious questions raised by an email that one of her staffers erroneously sent out before the release of the Hawley audit. In the email, audit manager Pamela Allison mentioned alterations of the audit to “beef up” one section while dropping another part. Was it an attempt to embellish portions to make Hawley’s infractions look even worse?
Galloway said at the time that she couldn’t discuss details of a pending audit. State law forbids it. But Thursday’s audit release should have freed her to clarify. Instead, Galloway attacked Hawley’s criticism of Allison as “unfair.” The audit says Allison’s email “is not evidence of a lack of objectivity, rather evidence that the audit team was appropriately evaluating audit evidence.”
That’s not good enough. If Galloway wants to continue as the standard bearer for ethics in government, she must be willing to turn the same uncomfortable magnifying glass of scrutiny on herself and her staff.
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