The running political squabble between the Blunt administration and Attorney General Nixon brings an accusation that Nixon might have improperly distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars won in a national lawsuit and a counter charge that the allegation is a "baseless political attack" coming from someone who, up to now, has endorsed that distribution.
Missouri got a $630,000 settlement against Caremark prescription drug services earlier this year. The Attorney General says he’s been following court orders in distributing the money to more than 160 agencies that help low-income Missourians afford prescription drugs.
But in has stepped Commissioner of Administration Larry Shepker, a Blunt appointee, to freeze the Attorney General’s account that holds the rest of the money. He says the check was deposited in the wrong Attorney General’s account and maintains no expenditure can be made from the state treasury without an authorized legislative appropriation. "It is my judgment that it is the General Assembly of the state of Missouri that has the authority to authorize the expenditure of those funds and it is Chapter 34 of the Missouri Revised Statutes which authorities the Office of Administration to determine if, in fact, proper purchasing and distribution procedures were followed," he says.
However, Chapter 34 refers to "State Purchasing and Printing," not the distribution of funds from a lawsuit settlement as ordered by a judge.
Nixon spokesman Scott Holste says Nixon has the appropriation authority over those funds under the state merchandising practices act. Further, he says the legislature HAS approved distribution of those funds and did so in an appropriations bill passed for this fiscal year. Further, he says, the legislature has approved the same authorization in approbations bills for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Another part of state law says that money from unfair merchandising practices action shall be paid to the state treasury and credited to the Merchandising Practices Revolving Fund. Shepker complains the money wound up in the Attorney General’s Trust Fund instead. But Holste says the money went to the Trust Fund because the action best reflected the court order in the case.
State law appears to give Shepker has little authority in distribution of money from merchandising practices lawsuit settlements.The law says the attorney general issues warrants for payment; the state auditor certifies them; and the state treasurer makes the payments. The legislature is not involved and Shepker’s only involvement under that law is in certifying the payment warrants.
In fact, says Holste, Shepker already has processed 166 checks totaling more than 488 thousand dollars.
Holste says the process is legal and has been done by previous attorneys general—and all of this has been explained to Shepker.
Shepker says he instituted the investigation at the behest of House Budget Chairman Allen Icet (R-Wildwood) because Icet was concerned Nixon’s office had distributed funds "without the approval of the General Assembly." A review of HB 12, one of the bills that sets up the budget for this fiscal year shows a section that authorizes the Attorney General to distribute money from the Attorney General’s Trust Fund to those entitled to receive those funds. The bill was part of the appropriation work that Icet chaired.
Shepker nonetheless says he will not release the remaining 140 thousand dollars until he gets adequate responses to his questions. .