FACT CHECK: McCaskill's campaign says Hawley broke his promise but public corruption unit exists


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Democrats have accused Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley of breaking more than one promise.

Now, incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill’s campaign says he has broken another. McCaskill campaign manager David Kirby released a statement in response to Hawley’s announcement for Senate, addressing a vow to make a public corruption unit.

“He broke his promise to create a Public Corruption Unit to crack down on the pay-to-play culture of Jefferson City,” Kirby said.

You can see the full statement below.

FACT CHECK: McCaskill's campaign says Hawley broke his promise but public corruption unit exists

But Hawley’s office says he has kept that promise. Who’s telling the truth? Let’s find out.

Hawley’s campaign

During his attorney general campaign, Hawley promised to create a public corruption unit that would “ take a more aggressive role in aiding local and federal prosecutors investigating allegations of corruption.”

On the attorney general’s website, Hawley says he’s fulfilled his promise.

The page defines the public corruption unit as a team that “actively investigate and prosecute official abuses of power and other corruption to keep Missouri government honest and clean.”

Hawley also referred to problems with “pay-to-play culture” in Jefferson City on the campaign trail. Pay-to-play is usually defined as money in exchange for services.

What Democrats say

When we reached out to McCaskill’s campaign for evidence, it pointed us to the Missouri Democratic Party.

The party sent us language it said was from Hawley’s campaign website that specifically promised to use the public corruption unit to end pay-to-play in Jefferson City.

“In addition to a public corruption unit, my ethics reform plan would prevent public officials from getting rich off the system, increase transparency, attack the pay-to-play politics of Jefferson City and ban lobbyist gifts to employees within the A.G.’s office — a ban that should be extended to the Missouri Legislature.”

We couldn’t verify that ourselves because that passage no longer exists on Hawley’s website, but the party also pointed us to a quote from a debate Hawley did on 93.9, the Eagle.

“I have a plan to clean it up. I've announced that I would create a public corruption unit in the office of the Attorney General to coordinate local law enforcement, federal law enforcement, to prosecute, investigate and prosecute these public corruption crimes that have come to characterize Jefferson City and it's time that we took these measures,” he said on May 17, 2016.

Does it matter?

Though Hawley made some indications that he would use the unit to address pay-to-play in Jefferson City, it doesn’t necessarily prove what Democrats are claiming.

Why? Because the public corruption unit exists.

The unit is led by Deputy Attorney General Darrell Moore. The website page lists three cases the unit has worked on.

Democrats say it didn’t exist until the Missouri Democratic Party started asking questions.

Meira Bernstein, a party spokeswoman, said it made a Sunshine Request on July 12 for any emails regarding a public corruption unit. The next day, according to the Democratic Party’s timeline, Hawley sent a request that a page be created for the unit on his official website.

Hawley’s deputy chief of staff Loree Anne Paradise did not specify when the webpage was created but said the unit was in play months before Democrats’ accusations.

The news release for the first case is dated April 5, 2017.

The corruption unit has prosecuted officials in Mississippi, Cooper and Cass counties. No state legislators or other Jefferson City officials have been prosecuted.

Our ruling

McCaskill’s campaign manager said Hawley “broke his promise to create a Public Corruption Unit to crack down on the pay-to-play culture of Jefferson City.”

Although Democrats contest when the unit was born and say he hasn’t used the unit to crack down on “pay-to-play” in Jefferson City, the bottom line is that Hawley has created the public corruption unit.

We rate this statement Mostly False.

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