Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s office quietly scrubbed from its website an online form that allowed residents to file complaints of public corruption against elected officials.
The form, which previously appeared on a dropdown menu on the homepage of the attorney general’s office website, appears to have been removed over the summer — likely in June, according to an archived version of the website available online. An archive from May shows that the online form allowed users to issue complaints of criminal acts by public officials so long as the local police agency had a conflict of interest in investigating the matter.
The move has raised questions for Bailey, specifically about why his office would remove the form and whether its removal might discourage people from filing complaints in cases of public corruption.
The revelation comes as Bailey, a Republican who was sworn into office this year after being appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson, mounts a campaign to be elected to a full term in 2024. Bailey’s opponents from both parties criticized him for the move.
“It concerns me that a form like this is being removed at a time when so many Missourians have deep concerns over public corruption issues in Jefferson City,” former Assistant U.S. Attorney Will Scharf, a Republican candidate for attorney general, said in a phone interview. “It’s incumbent on all office holders to encourage people with information of public corruption and malfeasance to come forward, not effectively dissuade them by making it harder to do so.”
Bailey spokesperson Madeline Sieren said in an email that the office took down several forms “in the interest of consolidating our processes and making our website more user-friendly.”
Constituents, she said, were already submitting public corruption complaints through the office’s main line “so we went ahead and consolidated the processes officially.”
“Missourians continue to utilize this method, and we process the complaints in the same manner we did as when the form was up,” she said. “The Attorney General’s Office thoroughly vets each complaint, and takes them seriously.”
The office’s government affairs and public safety divisions are in charge of handling public corruption complaints submitted to the office, Sieren said. Because each complaint is different, some require handling by different divisions, she said.
Elad Gross, a former assistant attorney general who is running against Bailey as a Democrat, said he was concerned by the move.
“It’s very troubling to see the Attorney General entirely scrub his official website of a crucial way for Missourians to report public corruption,” Gross said in a statement. “We need more, not less, accountability in our state and local governments, and our Attorney General should be playing a big role in that.”
State Rep. Sarah Unsicker, a Shrewsbury Democrat who is also running for attorney general, said in a statement that “the fight against public corruption is an important one.”
“I find it concerning that our sitting Attorney General removed a method for the public to report on public corruption, and I hope this removal doesn’t discourage people from finding other ways to disclose corruption when they see it,” she said.
Chuck Hatfield, a longtime Jefferson City attorney who worked in the Missouri Attorney General’s Office under Democrat Jay Nixon, said in an interview that the office doesn’t necessarily have to have a public corruption form. But, he said, the real question is whether Bailey’s office has “de-emphasized the focus on public corruption.”
“It’s at least some indication that maybe they have,” he said. “So it sort of sends a signal about what the priorities are.”
The decision to remove a form that allowed public corruption complaints against elected officials has come under scrutiny in the wake of a series of scandals surrounding House Speaker Dean Plocher, a Republican who faces calls to resign after reports surfaced that he received government reimbursements for expenses paid for by his campaign.
The Missouri House Ethics Committee is also probing the circumstances around Plocher’s decision to fire his former chief of staff last month, including whether the top aide was a whistleblower.
Bailey weighed in on the controversies for the first time this week, saying in a statement to The Star that the Missouri House “has a process in place to examine serious allegations just like these.”
“It’s important to let the process play out,” he said. “My office has made transparency in government a high priority and any allegations of misuse of taxpayer dollars are deeply troubling. Missourians deserve transparency and accountability at all levels of government, including the Missouri House.”
Michael Hafner, a political consultant advising Bailey, also has a minor role working as a communications advisor for Plocher as he mounts a campaign for lieutenant governor in 2024.
Hafner, in an email to The Star prior to Bailey’s statement, defended the Republican’s decision not to immediately weigh in on Plocher and attacked Scharf, who has called for Plocher to resign.
“The Attorney General isn’t someone who has the luxury of sitting behind a keyboard every day and firing off Tweets for attention,” he said. “He’s focused on doing the job of Attorney General, as opposed to his opponent who has never set foot in a Missouri courtroom.”
When asked about the political connections between Bailey and Plocher, Hafner said his work with clients in Missouri are each unique and separate from the others, pointing out that he also works as an advisor to Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, who has weighed in on the Plocher scandals.
Kehoe, who is running for governor in 2024, issued a statement last month that didn’t mention Plocher by name and urged “every elected official at every level to practice transparency and responsibility with Missourians’ tax dollars.”