JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Democrats recently launched digital ads against Republican Josh Hawley, accusing the potential U.S. Senate candidate of trying to expand his office budget as attorney general during a tight state budget year.
The ad released by the Missouri Democratic Party last month, before Hawley formed an exploratory committee to seek Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s seat, claimed he requested more money for his office and is paying staffers more than his predecessor, former Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster, amid strained state finances.
Republican Gov. Eric Greitens cut more than $250 million in spending this fiscal year from what lawmakers budgeted, citing lagging state revenues and rising health care costs. Sluggish revenue growth also had led Greitens and his Democratic predecessor, Jay Nixon, to cut a combined $350 million in spending during the previous 2017 fiscal year.
The Attorney General’s Office did ask for more money, but Hawley’s office says at least part of that request was made under Koster’s administration. Here’s more information on the ad and spending under Hawley:
THE AD: Hawley “tried expanding his office budget by nearly $1 million.”
THE FACTS: According to a Feb. 8 budget document, the Attorney General’s Office asked for about $36.4 million for the fiscal year that started in July, which is about $955,000 more than the $35.4 million legislators appropriated the previous year.
A budget document provided by Hawley’s office shows a December request for roughly $700,000 more compared to last fiscal year and a Jan. 11 request for another $230,000. The latter came after Hawley’s Jan. 9 inauguration.
Hawley’s Deputy Chief of Staff Loree Anne Paradise did not directly answer questions about whether Hawley asked Koster’s administration to request additional funding, but said the $700,000 request “was under the Koster administration.” It’s unclear why Koster’s office would ask for more money that would be used under Hawley’s leadership.
Most of the proposed increase was meant to pay for eight staffers to beef up a new “federalism and regulatory unit” in the office, Hawley told House budgeters in February. During that Feb. 21 hearing, Hawley said he didn’t want the extra staffing and money, saying the office requested the funding “early on in the budgeting process before we realized the extent of the budget challenges currently facing the state.”
Lawmakers ultimately cut funding for the office by $53,500 compared to the previous fiscal year.
Several other statewide elected officials — the governor, auditor and treasurer — all requested the same or less money compared to last fiscal year.
Hawley’s Democratic predecessor, Koster, had asked for increases of more than $100,000 each for fiscal years 2015 and 2016 and no increase for fiscal year 2017.
THE AD: Hawley “hired 16 staffers, each making over $100,000,” which represents “a 60 percent increase over his predecessor.”
THE FACTS: According to records provided to AP by Hawley’s office that are current through mid-July, top staffers are making more money now than under Koster. There actually are 18 employees paid a salary of at least $100,000 a year under Hawley, according to his office. Two others make $98,000 or more.
But Hawley also cut staffing, which might explain how he’s able to pay people more despite budget cuts.
According to Hawley’s office, there were about 354 employees under Koster in 2015 and 344 in 2016, the year before Koster was set to leave office. Hawley now has about 332 staffers.
Paradise said Hawley “increased the legal value of the office by hiring high-level attorneys” for work on issues such as human trafficking and opioid misuse.
For comparison, 10 attorney general employees under Koster were paid at least $100,000 in 2015 and 2016, according to online state finance records.
But the number of staffers paid at least $95,000 has remained relatively stable. Under Koster, 20 staffers were paid at least that much in 2016 and 23 received that salary range in 2015. Twenty people are paid at least $95,000 in Hawley’s office.
This version of the story corrects headline and first paragraph to remove quotation marks from words financially irresponsible. They were not used in the ad.