COLUMBIA, Mo. — Last week, the Kansas City Star reported that Josh Hawley received free representation from Cooper & Kirk, a high-powered Washington, D.C. law firm, while facing a lawsuit over an open records request for his Mizzou emails during his 2016 attorney general campaign. Hawley’s campaign did not report any payments to the firm, nor did they report the firm’s work as an in-kind donation to the campaign, which may have been a violation of Missouri campaign finance law. Hawley’s campaign refused to answer why they accepted Cooper & Kirk’s legal services for free, and Cooper & Kirk refused to answer why they would represent a Missouri AG candidate for free.
Hawley’s willingness to accept these services, free of charge, raises several more critical questions:
1. Why was Cooper & Kirk, a powerhouse DC firm with no office in Missouri or specialty in Missouri law, willing to do work for an Attorney General primary candidate pro bono? Were they expecting something in return?
2. What was the value of the legal fees that Cooper & Kirk offered Hawley, free of charge, for representing him in a lawsuit over his refusal to cooperate with an open records request?
3. The lawsuit in which Cooper & Kirk represented Hawley was dismissed in September 2016. If the firm is no longer helping defend Hawley against a lawsuit, what exactly are they billing him tens of thousands of dollars for now?
4. Did Hawley’s campaign violate Missouri law by failing to report these pro bono services as an in-kind donation? According to longtime Jefferson City attorney and former Chief of Staff for the Attorney General’s Office Chuck Hatfield, “The campaign is claiming it was a personal expense, but the circumstances could lead to the conclusion it was related to the campaign given the timing of the payments and the fact that it would have had a serious impact on the campaign.”
In 2017, Hawley’s Senate campaign paid nearly $90,000 to Cooper & Kirk for legal fees related to open records requests at the attorney general’s office and the University of Missouri. Here are more than a dozen other questions raised by Hawley’s unusual legal spending:
1. Hawley’s Senate campaign is not subject to the Sunshine law, and thus presumably has never received any Sunshine requests. Given that it is the responsibility of the public body facing the request to respond to and provide records, on what legal grounds is Hawley’s campaign coordinating with Mizzou and the Attorney General’s office, respectively?
2. How does Hawley’s campaign and outside counsel, Cooper Kirk, know about the requests? Who is providing them with the details of the requests? Is Hawley’s campaign counsel screening responsive documents?
3. Did these public governmental bodies like Mizzou and the Attorney General’s office provide copies of these Sunshine requests to the Hawley campaign unprompted, or did the campaign ask for copies of the requests via Sunshine as anyone else would have to?
4. Are Hawley’s personal campaign lawyers coordinating with state employees to determine which documents are responsive to Sunshine requests made to Mizzou and the Attorney General’s Office?
5. As Attorney General, Hawley is responsible for enforcing the Sunshine law. Why does he need outside counsel to assist with public governmental bodies responding to Sunshine requests?
6. Is Hawley’s former campaign manager, who has been in charge of responding to Sunshine requests made to the Attorney General’s office, using campaign politics to determine which records are responsive?
7. The amount Hawley has spent on legal fees would total more than 160 hours of work at $500 an hour. What exactly is Cooper Kirk spending so much time on?
8. Is Hawley’s campaign coordinating with the Attorney General’s office on other matters? Is Hawley using taxpayer resources from the Attorney General’s office to benefit his campaign?
9. During the 2016 campaign, Mizzou allowed Hawley to choose which emails on his taxpayer-funded account were public and which should remain private. Are they doing so again? Is the Attorney General’s Office providing Hawley the same opportunity?
10. As the official charged with enforcing Missouri’s Sunshine law, does Hawley believe that it is appropriate for public governmental bodies to coordinate with outside political campaigns to choose what records are made available to the public?
11. How can Missourians trust Hawley to enforce the Sunshine law when he is spending tens of thousands of dollars to avoid complying with the law himself?
12. Does Hawley feel that the public records of taxpayer-funded entities such as the Attorney General’s office and Mizzou should not be made public?
13. What does Hawley have to hide that would be so damaging that he needs to spend tens of thousands of dollars to prevent it from becoming public?
14. Is it ethical for Hawley’s campaign to use its resources directing the efforts of public governmental bodies like Mizzou and the Attorney General’s office to comply with Sunshine requests?