JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who promotes himself during his Senate campaign as a proponent of transparent government, refuses to use email while conducting state business.
Critics say that means he is not creating public records of his work.
The Republican attorney general and Treasurer Eric Schmitt are the only statewide officials who don't use email on the job. Gov. Mike Parson, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Auditor Nicole Galloway all use email — and to some extent, texts — for official business, The Kansas City Star reported.
Hawley's office said the attorney general "does not find it necessary or helpful" to use email for state business. Hawley's two predecessors, Democrats Chris Koster and Jay Nixon did not use email, said his spokeswoman, Mary Compton.
While on the campaign trail, Hawley conducts official business by phone and always has access to his office's computer network, Compton said. He sometimes has messages and statements read to him over the phone.
"The Attorney General believes discussing important issues with his senior staff is the most efficient way to gather and convey important information," Compton said.
First Amendment advocates say it's troubling when public officials avoid creating public records.
"We would be concerned about any government official who goes out of the way to not create a record of the public business that's being done," said Tony Rothert, legal director for American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.
Hawley has promoted legislation that he says would improve Missouri's open records law, particularly updating the laws to stay current with technology. The Legislature hasn't acted on his proposal.
Hawley used email extensively as a law professor at the University of Missouri before he ran for attorney general. He was sued in May 2016 over an open records request to the university for his emails and other documents from his time as a law professor. The case was dropped after Hawley won his party's nomination.
After Hawley entered the GOP race for Senate against incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic Super PAC, filed multiple public records requests with the attorney general's office and University of Missouri seeking correspondence, calendars and other documents.
State law doesn't require communications to be in writing, so Hawley's refusal to use mail is not illegal, said David Roland, director of litigation with the Freedom Center of Missouri, a libertarian nonprofit that advocates for government transparency.
Jason Grumet, the founder and president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, said public officials' texts and emails shouldn't be public record because subjecting them to open records laws would cripple their ability to conduct often-controversial work.
Rothert countered that emails by state legislators, members of Congress and their staffs aren't subject to open records laws and most of Hawley's internal communications as attorney general likely would be exempted from public release because they contain information about ongoing investigations or cases. But he said public statements that are more political in nature don't fall under those exemptions.
"It does raise questions about why someone feels the need to be so evasive," Rother said.