Missouri attorney general candidate Kurt Schaefer should be subject to a legal probe over possible abuses of office, according to a former U.S. attorney.
Allegations that state senator Schaefer pressured the University of Missouri to hurt a political rival merit an investigation into whether it violated federal corruption and bribery laws, said Matthew Whitaker, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa.
Schaefer’s actions may have violated the “honest services fraud clause,” a 28-word clause of federal mail and wire fraud law that prosecutors used to convict former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Schaefer’s actions may also meet the state’s definition of official misconduct, which occurs when an official “knowingly demands or receives any fee or reward for the execution of any official act.”
Allegations of misconduct stem from a Jan. 19 email in which former University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe wrote: “Schaefer had several meetings with me pressuring me to take away Josh Hawley's right to run for Attorney General by taking away an employee's right to ask for an unpaid leave of absence when running for public office.”
Schaefer is chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee, which oversees state funding including the budgets of the UM System. Josh Hawley is a law professor at the University of Missouri and is challenging Schaefer for the Republican nomination for attorney general.
UM policy required Hawley to resign or request a leave of absence to run for office. Former MU president Wolfe said the school is “under attack” in his Jan. 19 email and worried that the university’s budget was at risk of being cut due to a political fall out.
Tying public funds to private goals is illegal, Whitaker said, and the email “laid out a very disturbing set of circumstances” that demand further inquiry by police and prosecutors. Whitaker is now executive director of the nonprofit Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a watchdog group.
Schaefer called Wolfe’s claims were “false and ridiculous.”
“Even though he resigned, former President Wolfe refuses to take any responsibility for leaving the University of Missouri System in disarray,” Schaefer said in an exclusive statement to American Media Institute. “In an attempt to extort taxpayer dollars for an extravagant golden parachute, he is attempting to revise history and blame everyone but himself.”
Federal investigators refused to comment on, or even acknowledge the existence of, a probe. “It’s FBI policy to never confirm or deny the existence of an investigation,” said Bridget Patton, FBI spokeswoman for the Kansas City division.
“The Department of Justice doesn’t comment on an investigation until after it's completed,” said Don Ledford, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Missouri. He said his statement was not intended to confirm or deny any investigation.
The former UM President also made other allegations against Schaefer, saying the two-term senator “asked me to get in the middle of the tenure decision for Mr. Hawley, which I refused as well.”
In July 2015, Hawley was granted tenure, which will go into effect following his return from a leave of absence he has taken for the campaign.
Schaefer also coached the testimony of the university’s then-Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin to the Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life, Wolfe said.
Schaefer’s committee was probing the university’s relationship with Columbia’s Planned Parenthood. “He also was influencing at least one member of the Board of Curators to keep Bowen Loftin in place,” Wolfe said.
Citing Schaefer’s campaign for attorney general, Missouri House Minority Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, recently called on him to step down as chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee. The Republican state senator has refused.
Wolfe’s letter is a prime example of the problems with Schaefer’s leadership, said Schaefer’s GOP challenger Hawley. “I think the kind of behavior that this letter describes is exactly the reason why Missourians are fed up with Jefferson City,” he said. “This is the kind of culture of corruption that has to change in our state.”
Schaefer has also come under fire over his former chief of staff, Yancy Williams, who moonlighted as a paid consultant with Missourians for Fair Taxation, a political action committee funded by the Missouri Association of Realtors, one of Schaefer’s top campaign donors.
While earning an annual salary of about $77,000 as a state senate employee, Williams also received $239,000 over four years as a part-time consultant for the Realtors’ group, according to a review of the PAC’s expense reports.
Williams received 52 payments between May 2011 and September 2015, including checks cut during legislative sessions in which Schaefer pushed bills that the Realtors’ group publicly endorsed.
The payments to Williams were mostly for vaguely labeled services such as “strategic planning” and “consulting,” according to the PAC’s financial reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
As part of his arrangement with the Realtors’ PAC, Williams was paid through his company, Consolidated Capital & Consulting LLC. Since 2004, the firm has provided “grassroots development,” “fundraising,” “message development” and “consulting” for PACs or political candidates in Missouri and elsewhere.
Williams’ arrangement with the PAC isn’t surprising considering Missouri’s lax ethics laws.
“Yancy gave excellent, excellent advice in terms of strategy,” said Samuel Licklider, a registered lobbyist for the Realtors and the original treasurer for Missourians for Fair Taxation.
It is not clear that Williams will lead Schaefer’s campaign for attorney general. He is no longer a member of Schaefer’s legislative staff. He collected his last paycheck in September, according to state payroll records.