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Exclusive: Ashcroft responds to Galloway as investigation into Auditor’s Office forges ahead

EXCLUSIVE — The back-and-forth between Auditor Nicole Galloway and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft continued this week with the Democratic gubernatorial candidate filing a petition in court to block a subpoena. But it appears her complaint included inaccurate information, sources said.

Ashcroft, a Republican, is investigating a complaint from the conservative Liberty Alliance group alleging Galloway used staff and taxpayer resources to publish an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch critical of Gov. Mike Parson’s stance on abortion. The complaint alleged the subject matter of the piece indicated it was placed in support of her gubernatorial bid. 

As part of his investigation, Ashcroft sent a Sunshine Law request for emails and documents pertaining to the op-ed. The request turned into a subpoena after the Secretary of State’s Office said the Auditor’s Office failed to comply. 

Galloway, in turn, filed a petition in Cole County Circuit Court to block the secretary of state’s subpoena for emails related to the op-ed. The petition called the complaint “fatally flawed” from a “dark money organization.” 

“I really don’t understand why the auditor is making a big deal out of this. We got a complaint, we sent the auditor a Sunshine request, we didn’t tell anybody we were sending a request or send out a news release. … We’ve treated it the same as we treated a similar investigation of [former Attorney General] Josh Hawley,” Ashcroft said in an interview with The Missouri Times. “It’s hypocritical. I guess it’s okay to investigate a Republican but not a Democrat.” 

“The lawsuit, the subpoena, the politicization of it — that she has done. We’d really just like her to obey the law in regards to the Sunshine request,” Ashcroft said. “She can talk about whether or not this law applies to her and whether or not she should have been subpoenaed, but the core thing here is she received the Sunshine request and refused to follow the law.”

‘Legally and factually accurate’

Galloway’s complaint repeatedly stated: “Neither the letter nor any allegations contained therein were sworn to under penalty of perjury.” It refers to it as an “unsworn complaint” and said the “dismissal of such a complaint is a ministerial duty.” 

However, documents provided exclusively to The Missouri Times showed Chris Vas, the executive director of Liberty Alliance did, in fact, sign the Elections Complaint Form attesting to the information provided. A spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office also confirmed the complaint had been signed. 

The Elections Complaint Form includes: “By my signature I swear or affirm that, to the best of my knowledge, the information provided on this form is true.” Vas’s signature and the date of Sept. 9, 2020 are included. 

Missouri state statute says: “Any person may file a complaint with the secretary of state stating the name of any person who has violated any of the provisions of sections 115.629 to 115.646 and stating the facts of the alleged offense, sworn to, under penalty of perjury.”

Ashcroft said the same complaint form has been used in numerous other cases, and the signature on it sufficiently complies with state statute. 

Neither a spokesperson for Galloway nor the attorney who filed the complaint immediately responded to a request for comment. 

“Liberty Alliance’s complaint was legally and factually accurate, sworn to under penalty of perjury, and met all statutory requirements,” Vas told The Missouri Times. “That’s why the secretary of state accepted it and chose to open an investigation. Galloway is desperately slinging mud at Secretary Ashcroft in order to not comply with a lawful subpoena. This begs the question: What is she trying to hide?” 

Campaign season kerfuffle continues 

Ashcroft and Galloway engaged in a back-and-forth over the investigation this week. The Auditor’s Office lambasted the secretary of state for not waiting “for the response that we indicated would be forthcoming” and “inject[ing] partisan politics into his request a few weeks before an election.” 

She said the office had already disclosed 138,000 pages of documents to the Secretary of State’s Office related to the investigation. Ashcroft, on the other hand, said his office has not received these materials. 

Ashcroft said Galloway failed to comply with a Sunshine Law request so the subpoena for the emails was needed. He also noted it was her office that publicized the investigation.

“In the spirit of transparency, we would like to encourage the Auditor to cooperate with this investigation,” Ashcroft said. “If her office would provide the documents which show there was no wrongdoing, we could close this investigation.”

The secretary of state contended this investigation is similar to one conducted into then-Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office. 

“We’ve treated it the same way we treated an investigation of Josh Hawley, one we asked her to help with, and she felt it was entirely appropriate to investigate a statewide official,” Ashcroft said. “I guess it’s different now that the shoe is on the other foot.” 

Galloway’s petition also contended the Liberty Alliance complaint “lacks any basis in the law” and said the secretary of state has a “duty” to dismiss it. 

Galloway is embroiled in an increasingly heated battle for governor against incumbent Parson. She’s been hit with multiple complaints, including from Hawley, over the use of her office. 

When Liberty Alliance initially filed the complaint in September, Steph Deidrick, Galloway’s press secretary, said: “We are familiar with the tactics of this dark money group, which has previously filed a frivolous lawsuit and lodged baseless complaints against this office. They have been unsuccessful in their attacks. The operations of Auditor Galloway’s office are open, accessible to the public, and in compliance with the law. Anyone is welcome to view the hundreds of thousands of pages of public business that are publicly available online and free of charge.”