Hawley Campaign Paid to Screen Mizzou Emails Before Release

Jun 26, 2018

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley's campaign paid lawyers tens of thousands of dollars to review emails and other documents from his time as a University of Missouri law professor before complying with a public records request, according to newly released documents.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and another Democratic group, American Bridge, asked last year for documents from Hawley and his wife, Erin, who still works as a law school professor. Hawley's campaign says Erin Hawley didn't feel it was appropriate for her to be making public records determinations, The Kansas City Star reports. The paper obtained information on the response to the records request through its own records request.

University of Missouri spokesman Christian Basi said it's standard for the university to inform employees of records requests, but that it's "very rare" for a faculty member to use outside counsel to review documents in response.

"We can't remember a time in recent history when that has been done before," he said.

Among the emails the Hawleys' outside attorneys sought to withhold from public release were messages between Hawley and his wife as "legally privileged spousal communications." After inquiries from The Star, the Hawleys said Monday they have asked their attorney to provide a reporter with copies of the emails between the couple.

The couple's attorneys also asked the university to withhold emails related to Josh Hawley's work for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, citing attorney-client privilege, as well as documents tied to his consulting work for an unnamed law firm and Josh and Erin Hawley's work on an amicus brief for the U.S. Supreme Court. Other emails flagged by the Hawleys' attorneys were messages that contained students' names, the Hawleys' home address and a photo of their home, and tax documents with Josh Hawley's personal information.

It's difficult to characterize which materials ultimately were withheld based on the emails obtained by The Star.

"What's Hawley hiding?" said David Bergstein, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "He talks a lot about transparency but doesn't want to apply the same rules to himself."

Hawley has asked the Missouri state legislature to strengthen the Sunshine Law to give him subpoena power and the authority to enforce the state's records retention law.

Campaign finance experts said Hawley's use of his Senate campaign funds in this case appeared to be permissible under federal law.

"Any expense that would not exist if this person wasn't running for office is a permissible use of campaign funds," said Paul S. Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation at Common Cause, a government watchdog group.