JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – This week, Graves Garrett attorneys, on behalf of the Missouri Alliance for Freedom, filed civil suits with the Cole County Circuit Court to compel both the Auditor and Sen. Rob Schaaf to produce documents requested under the state’s Sunshine Law.
State Auditor Nicole Galloway has been a strong voice in the call for more transparency in Missouri government, but now she finds herself on the opposite side of a Sunshine Law request.
As for the Missouri Alliance for Freedom, it’s a nonprofit organization who says their primary purpose is to “advance the interests of Missouri by protecting and growing individual, religious, and economic liberty.” They support the idea of limited government and accountability while aiming to pass conservative legislation through the Missouri General Assembly. They were heavily involved in pushing for right-to-work legislation, as well as being vocal opponents of PDMP in Missouri. Their president is Kristen Blanchard Ansley, the former acting executive director of the Missouri Republican Party.
The firm they’re using is Graves Garrett, which is run by Todd Graves, the chairman of the Missouri GOP.
That Sunshine request stems from May of this year when the Missouri Alliance for Freedom asked for records relating to the audit of the Missouri Department of Revenue, as well as all communications within the Auditor’s Office or other relating to the audit.
Galloway responded by delivering a letter from Paul Harper to Wood Miller, Acting Director of the Department of Revenue, one letter from Paul Harper to Joel Walters, Acting Director of the Department of Revenue, and one letter from Joel Walters, Acting Director of the Department of Revenue to Paul Harper.
But as for the other requests, Galloway’s counsel stated all other records “relating to the audit of the Department of Revenue” are “confidential under Sections 29.070, 29.200.17, 32.057, 610.021(14), and 610.021(17), RSMo.”
The MAF filed their petition with the court, saying Galloway’s “assertion of confidentiality is overbroad” and the statutes do not protect “records relating to your decision to audit the timeliness of the Department’s issuance of tax refunds.”
A spokesperson with the Auditor’s Office tells the Missouri Times they have not been served with the lawsuit yet, but has received a copy from an attorney at Graves-Garrett.
“We disagree with the unfounded claims made by Missouri Alliance for Freedom, a 501(c)(4) organization. We will continue to follow the Sunshine Law and are focused on the work of the office to get results for the citizens of Missouri.”
But perhaps the more interesting of the two suits is the one filed against Sen. Rob Schaaf.
The MAF’s petition claims Schaaf has “purposely closed public records without legal justification.”
The MAF sent the Senate Administrator a request to inspect Schaaf’s correspondence in late May. They say, “on information and belief, the Senate has granted individual senators the unilateral authority and discretion to release or close records of their correspondence retained in the Senate’s email system,” and Schaaf has closed almost all records of his correspondence retained by the Senate in its email system. The Senate Administrator offered to produce sixteen pages of emails in response to MAF’s request.
The MAF argues Schaaf has no basis to close these records under the Sunshine Law, and requested to inspect and copy his correspondence through email. The petition document says Schaaf responded, refusing to produce any correspondence.
Here’s Schaaf’s response:
I’m sure you know that as a legislator, my communications are exempt from the Sunshine Law. If they were [sic], I would gladly respond to your request. You might be interested to know that an initiative petition is being circulated that would subject legislators to the Sunshine law. I imagine, given the social media activity of your group, that were I to request your donor list, you would demur as well.
All the Best,
The MAF argues those records belong to the Senate and are retained by Schaaf on behalf of the Senate, and he has no basis to close them. They also allege Schaaf uses personal email accounts to do public business, which they say he does in order to “avoid public scrutiny of his correspondence.”
“He has purposely arranged a system of at least two, and perhaps many, personal email accounts to avoid retaining records on the Senate’s official email system. By these means, on information and belief, he has purposely sought to circumvent the Sunshine Law.”
But the state’s open records law allows for some government documents to be withheld, as the legislature covers the two chambers and committees, but not each individual lawmaker. That decision goes back to an appeals court ruling which stated an individual was not a public governmental body and not individually subject to the Sunshine Law.
In both cases, the MAF and their attorneys are seeking the court’s injunction to get the requested documents and data.
Here are copies of the petitions filed with the courts:
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined The Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield.