The Missouri US Senate race is under a bright spotlight in both print and broadcast media approaching the November 6th election.
A $2 million high-profile TV campaign critical (watch here) of incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill’s stance on health care is being launched on the heels of a New York Times story (read here) focused on shortcomings of Republican challenger Josh Hawley’s performance as the state’s attorney general.
The newspaper published a feature story Sunday saying Hawley’s tenure as attorney general has been chaotic and expensive for taxpayers. The Times noted that Hawley focused on high profile political cases such as a lawsuit he joined to overturn the Affordable Care Act while his office was shorthanded of qualified attorneys.
Settlements, which totaled $22 million during fiscal years 2015 and 2016 combined under predecessor Chris Koster, rose to $35 million in fiscal year 2018 under Hawley’s watch. Both administrations were included in 2017. Hawley’s office is also appealing after losing a case in August that awarded prison workers $113.7 million for unpaid work.
Attorney General spokesperson Mary Compton said the prison worker lawsuit has been defended since the Koster administration and involves actions in the Department of Corrections over decades. She also told the Times that cases Hawley settled had originated under previous attorney generals and suggested the higher total of settlement payouts in 2018 have been the result of Hawley making the process more transparent.
The newspaper also chronicled a troubled term of Hawley’s head of civil litigation, Michael Quinlan, who resigned last December after a female attorney in the office complained about his conduct.
Quinlan held strong views on religious matters as did Hawley, who as a candidate for the attorney general’s office, urged the legislature to pass a law allowing churches and businesses to opt out of participation in same-sex ceremonies. The Times quoted Quinlan in a conservative Catholic publication as disparaging a culture of “sexual deviance, same-sex ‘marriage, and gender-fluidity.”
The newspaper reported that civil litigation suffered under Quinlan’s watch as the office struggled to produce court documents and at least one judge expressed frustration over its slow pace.
The Times also outlined Hawley’s investigation of former Republican Governor Eric Greitens’ and his staff over the use of the Confide app which erases text messages. The probe to determine if rules for record retention were broken found no wrongdoing.
Democrats and other critics of Hawley contend his investigation was incomplete and uninspired. The Times revealed it had received internal messages, including one from a Greitens aide implying she knew in advance when Hawley’s investigation would wrap up.
The newspaper reported that other emails showed his office complied with a demand from the governor’s office that interviews of its staff be limited to 15 minutes. Hawley and spokesperson Compton have stated numerous times that the attorney general’s office lacks the power to subpoena the Governor or his staff.
The TV ad targeting incumbent Democratic Senator McCaskill is being bankrolled by the libertarian-leaning group Americans for Prosperity (AFP).
Titled “An Honest Conversation,” the ad features testimonials from female residents discussing Sen. McCaskill’s vote on Obamacare in a negative light. The organization claims the law has been responsible for skyrocketing costs and was a massive special interest giveaway to pharmaceutical companies, an argument similar to statements Hawley has made on the campaign trail.
The ad buy for $2 million is from AFP’s relatively new Americans for Prosperity Action, a super PAC which is able to spend unlimited sums on election activities while being subject to some loose disclosure requirements. Both organizations are part of the Koch Network, which has played a prominent role in political advertising since a 2010 landmark Supreme Court decision loosened campaign finance regulations.
AFP pledged to spend over $400 million on the 2018 midterm elections. Its ads are largely intended to aid Republican candidates. AFP had a brief squabble with GOP leaders in July over large government spending and the implementation of tariffs while the party has controlled Congress and the White House.
The ad critical of Senator McCaskill’s stance on the Affordable Care Act comes as healthcare has emerged as a central topic of the Senate race. At least two polls show health care as the number one issue on Missouri voters’ minds.
The two-term Senator has attacked Hawley for joining a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which would do away with coverage for pre-existing conditions. Hawley has said he supports the protection of those with pre-existing conditions but says it can be achieved independently of the health care law.
AFP Action’s ad will boost the already heavy investment of outside money on the Missouri Senate race. More outside money, in excess of $52 million, has been spent on the contest than any other race across in the midterm election cycle. And the biggest portion of that outlay, $25.1 million, has been spent against McCaskill.
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