JEFFERSON CITY – A Republican candidate for Missouri attorney general says he would create a corruption unit to tackle misuse of public office if he is elected, part of a series of ethics-related policies he's pitching as state lawmakers make a renewed push for reform.
Attorney Josh Hawley told The Associated Press that his plan is to have the corruption unit coordinate efforts and support local prosecutors and federal authorities when needed. He said it would help "to make public corruption a top priority here in the state."
"People have completely lost confidence in our public officials in Jefferson City," Hawley said Monday. "This is, I think, a much-needed step to getting that government back to the people and restoring confidence in our elected officials."
State lawmakers are looking at tightening the state's loose ethics rules — focusing on uncapped lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and no cooling-off period for lawmakers who want to become lobbyists — following the resignations of two former lawmakers who left office last year amid allegations of inappropriate behavior toward interns.
Hawley, who took a leave of absence from work as an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, faces an Aug. 2 GOP primary against state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, also of Columbia.
Schaefer said the attorney general's office already has the authority to prosecute public corruption cases and does so.
"It's nothing new," Schaefer said, citing work he did during his time as a state assistant attorney general.
Democrats Teresa Hensley, a former Cass County prosecutor, and St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman also are running for attorney general.
Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster is running to replace term-limited Gov. Jay Nixon.
Hawley told The AP that, if elected, he won't accept lobbyist gifts and won't accept campaign contributions from companies or others under investigation by the attorney general's office.
Both Schaefer and Zimmerman say they don't accept lobbyist gifts, and Zimmerman says he'll continue that practice if elected.
Missouri Ethics Commission records show a lobbyist for the Missouri State Public Defender System reported giving Schaefer a framed print of "It's a Wonderful Life" in January, and the Missouri Family Policy Council gave him an award plaque.
After a New York Times article claimed Koster was among many attorneys general who were soft on companies facing litigation from their offices after receiving gifts and donations, Koster said he would stop accepting gifts from lobbyists or contributions from anyone involved in litigation with his office within the last 90 days. He has denied the money influenced his work as attorney general.
Hawley also said he won't take money from companies bidding for contracts with the state. He said that could create conflicts in cases of private law firms vying for potentially lucrative contracts to do legal work on the state's behalf.
The general election is Nov. 8.