February 8, 2023

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AG’s Office did not keep Schmitt’s travel records after 2020

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Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt greets a crowd of supporters in St. Louis after winning the GOP primary for U.S. Senate on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022

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In April, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt walked from inside the U.S. Supreme Court to a circle of cameras and reporters stationed on the sidewalk. Tourists listened in as Schmitt took questions about his and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to a Biden administration immigration policy.

“I view Missouri as a proxy for all the other states that are impacted by the crisis we have at the border,” Schmitt told reporters.

But as he represented the taxpayers of Missouri in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, his office did not keep his travel records. The oral arguments, covered by news organizations across the country, did not appear on his calendar. His calendar notes a “Press Conference” and two TV interviews that day. There are no records showing the cost of the trip or reimbursement checks.

Over the course of Schmitt’s tenure as attorney general, as he leveraged his public office to help build his political brand in the Republican Party with high-profile lawsuits, Schmitt’s record keeping was sparse. Between January and late September 2022, Schmitt had only 39 entries in his calendar.

Who paid for Schmitt’s travel as Missouri attorney general?

The Star requested Schmitt’s calendar, copies of all of the attorney general’s travel receipts and expense reports during his time in office through late September 2022.

It took 44 days for the office to release Schmitt’s calendar, which was delivered just four days before he was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Schmitt’s office only provided copies of the attorney general’s travel receipts for trips taken in 2019. It provided one reimbursement check dated March 2020 for a trip taken to Washington the previous year. His office said it did not have any formal expense reports for Schmitt.

The lack of disclosure raises questions about the blurred lines between Schmitt’s public office and his Senate campaign, particularly on the high-profile lawsuits he filed against the Biden administration. In Schmitt’s stump speech on the campaign trail, he would tell supporters his job as Missouri’s top lawyer was to wake up, go to work and sue Biden.

Schmitt’s office defended the sparse records by saying it had fully complied with The Star’s request.

“Missourians have not paid for Attorney General Schmitt’s official travel,” said Chris Nuelle, Schmitt’s official spokesman. “Attorney General Schmitt has been incredibly active in defending the interests and rights of all Missourians. We provided you all relevant documents to your requests.”

In response to a set of follow up questions asking who paid for Schmitt’s travel, Nuelle said, “I’m only able to speak to what was paid for by the official office, which I’ve answered before.”

Mark Pedroli, a St. Louis-based transparency attorney, said citizens are entitled to know who is paying for Schmitt’s travel, even if Missouri taxpayers weren’t the ones footing the bill.

“The idea that third parties, corporations, or interest groups would be allowed to secretly pay for official travel and accommodations of state officials raises serious questions that only transparency can answer,” said Pedroli, who represented the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee against the Missouri Attorney General’s Office in a lawsuit related to Sen. Josh Hawley’s records.

While Schmitt’s attorney general campaign reimbursed his office for travel expenses in 2019, there are no indications that his Senate campaign reimbursed his office or paid for any of his travel.

Schmitt’s campaign did not respond to a request seeking records of Schmitt’s travel it paid for.

Over the course of 2021, the Republican Attorneys General Association and its political dark money group, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, spent $18,657.89 paying for Schmitt’s travel to cities like Washington, Atlanta, Phoenix and San Diego for conferences, according to Schmitt’s latest financial disclosure form filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Schmitt briefly served as interim chairman of RAGA in 2021 after Georgia Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr stepped down, citing an internal rift created by the Jan. 6 insurrection. Schmitt also previously served as the group’s vice chairman.

A RAGA representative did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Throughout 2019 and early 2020, RAGA and the Rule of Law Defense Fund spent just more than $18,000 for Schmitt or his family to travel to conferences in Washington, New York, Scottsdale and White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, the home of The Greenbrier golf resort, according to his ethics report. The Federalist Society, a powerful conservative policy group, also paid $716 for Schmitt to travel to Chicago in 2019.

In 2018, outside groups paid $9,980.68 for his travel to conferences in Aspen, New Orleans, Dallas, Key West, Washington and Charleston.

Schmitt’s office did not produce any reimbursement checks from the Republican Attorneys General Association from 2021, nor did it produce any receipts from 2020, when the group paid $21,463.07 for Schmitt’s travel to conferences in Washington, Orlando, Salt Lake City and Sea Island, Georgia.

Why these records matter

Government transparency experts say such records are important to help build trust with the public and to account for how taxpayer money is spent by an office with an annual budget of more than $40 million. In Congress, where Schmitt will serve starting next year, some members have begun posting their daily schedules online in an effort at transparency.

“When an elected official runs for another public office, it doesn’t, in any way, absolve them from complying with freedom of information requests or public information requests,” said Aaron Scherb, the legislative affairs director for Common Cause, a national nonpartisan group that advocates for government transparency. “Public officials work on the taxpayers’ dime. And it’s important that citizens can get the transparency and accountability that they deserve from their elected officials at all times.”

In early 2019, when Schmitt first took office, he used his calendar regularly. In January 2019, Schmitt blocked out time for oral arguments with the Missouri Supreme Court. He included meetings with the governor, top attorneys and advocacy groups.

Around April 2020, Schmitt’s calendar entries started to wane. The calendars — previously used to note the attorney general’s trials, pre-trial meetings, public speaking events and numerous meetings with high-ranking officials and staff members — were largely reduced to only his TV interviews, press conferences and weekly administrative calls.

The calendars stop showing Schmitt’s administrative calls or meetings after Sept. 2021. On Oct. 21, 2021, more than a year out from the general election, Schmitt traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to announce the filing of a federal lawsuit that sought to force President Joe Biden to resume construction of the border wall.

After that trip to the border — noted on Schmitt’s calendar as “Southern Border Tour” — his calendar entries decreased dramatically. Only five of his calendar entries between Oct. 22, 2021 and Sept. 22, 2022 were unrelated to a press interview or press conference.

For example, during the five month period between April 22, 2022 and Sept. 22, 2022, only 13 items or events were entered on Schmitt’s calendar. Seven of those entries were TV interviews with Fox News or a Fox News affiliate. Of those seven interviews, four were with Tucker Carlson.

That’s compared to 2019, where seven events were entered on Schmitt’s calendar in just his first two days in office.

“He’s definitely doing things and somebody is keeping track and giving him a schedule and he knows where to be and when to be there,” said Elad Gross, the assistant attorney general from 2014 to 2016 under Democrat Chris Koster. “It is not appearing on his official calendar as the attorney general. So I would think it’s appearing somewhere else. We should have access to that.”

It is unclear if Schmitt keeps a second calendar. Nuelle did not specify whether there were other places where Schmitt kept his schedule, only that the attorney general’s office had complied with the request.

Schmitt’s final calendar entry came September 1, 2022, an interview with Carlson, whose nightly broadcast holds significant weight among conservatives. In it, he talked about his most recent lawsuit against the Biden administration, where he and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry allege that the Biden administration worked with social media companies to limit speech.

“You use your calendar for a lot of things,” Gross said. “As an attorney, I use it to remind me of deadlines and work that I have to do during the day. But, you know, if I’ve got, I guess, an appointment with Tucker Carlson that I don’t want to miss, I’d make sure to put that on the calendar.”

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A reporter for The Kansas City Star covering Missouri government and politics, Kacen Bayless is a native of St. Louis, Missouri. He graduated from the University of Missouri with an emphasis in investigative reporting. He previously covered projects and investigations in coastal South Carolina. In 2020, he was awarded South Carolina’s top honor for assertive journalism.