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FEC to pay Josh Hawley campaign $23K to settle lawsuit over denial of public records

Missouri Attorney General and senatorial candidate Josh Hawley speaks to supporters at a campaign event in Chesterfield on Oct. 29, 2018.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo
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St. Louis Public Radio

The Federal Election Commission has agreed to pay U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley’s campaign $23,500 to settle a lawsuit alleging the agency illegally withheld public documents.

In late 2021, Hawley’s campaign requested a series of records under the Freedom of Information Act from the FEC.

The purpose of the request was to compile materials the campaign could use to defend itself in a separate lawsuit alleging the National Rifle Association illegally used shell companies to funnel money to Hawley when he was running for Senate.

A complaint against the NRA was originally filed with the FEC. But after the commission deadlocked and was unable to take action, a federal lawsuit was filed by the gun-control nonprofit founded by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

Hawley has denied any wrongdoing. His campaign asked the FEC to turn over documents regarding its consideration of several enforcement matters. The FEC turned over some records but informed Hawley it was withholding 32 pages of responsive materials.

Hawley filed an appeal asking the commission to hand over the documents. But he was later informed the commission was “unable to render an opinion on whether to approve or deny the appeal by a majority vote.”

So in May, Hawley’s campaign sued in federal court, arguing the FEC was withholding documents in violation of federal transparency law. A settlement was released on Wednesday. The campaign was awarded attorneys fees and provided the documents.

“We are pleased to prevail here and to be awarded attorneys fees, despite battling a well-funded anti-gun group and Democrat-leaning FEC Commissioners attempting to hide information,” said Kyle Plotkin, spokesman for Hawley’s campaign.

The settlement was released just two days after a Cole County judge on Monday fined the Missouri attorney general’s office $12,000 for “knowingly and purposefully” violating Missouri transparency laws.

The violations occurred while Hawley was serving as attorney general in 2017 and involved his taxpayer-funded staff taking steps to conceal emails with political consultants during his 2018 campaign for U.S. Senate.

This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent, part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence.

Jason Hancock has been writing about Missouri since 2011, most recently as lead political reporter for The Kansas City Star. He has spent nearly two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, and has a track record of exposing government wrongdoing and holding elected officials accountable.

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