COLUMBIA — In a reversal of last week's decision, the Missouri Ethics Commission will investigate allegations that Sen. Kurt Schaefer misused his office and pressured UM System officials to block MU law professor Josh Hawley from seeking the Republican nomination for state Attorney General, according to a letter signed by the commission's executive director.
Hawley is Schaefer's opponent in the primary race.
The commission said last week it would not investigate whether Schaefer, R-Columbia, used his office for personal gain, saying the allegations made by the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust appeared to be criminal in nature and beyond its jurisdiction.
The foundation resubmitted its complaint on Tuesday, saying the commission was required by law to investigate the allegations.
The foundation also referenced previous complaints to the commission that resulted in referrals for criminal prosecutions, including a 2013 complaint against former Rep. Steve Webb of St. Louis County, who was later convicted of stealing from campaign funds.
In a phone interview, Kendra Arnold, the foundation's attorney, said the commission's initial decision not to investigate "had nothing to do with the validity of the complaint" and "raises serious ethical questions."
The document, signed by James Klahr, the executive director of the commission, refuted any implication that it didn't want to investigate Schaefer and said the Ethics Commission was persuaded by the foundation's legal arguments.
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit also submitted a Sunshine Law request dated Monday requesting all of the commission's records referencing an investigation of Schaefer since April 19. That request was denied, Arnold said.
The foundation's complaint revolves around allegations that Schaefer used his power as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee to pressure former UM System President Tim Wolfe and Board of Curators member David Steelman to modify university policy on faculty leave to make it more difficult for Hawley to run against Schaefer.
"Kurt Schaefer had several meetings with me, pressuring me to take away Josh Hawley's right to run for Attorney General," Wolfe wrote in a letter to prominent UM System supporters in January.
Alleged offenses range from misdemeanor official misconduct to bribery related to programs receiving federal funds, an offense that can trigger a fine or prison sentence of up to 10 years.
The foundation is headed by Matthew Whitaker, a U.S. attorney who held office under George W. Bush. Whitaker ran for an Iowa seat in the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 2014.
Scott Dieckhaus, Schaefer's campaign spokesman, said he was unaware of the commission's decision to investigate the senator as of 5 p.m. Thursday. He later declined to comment.
Scott Paradise, Hawley's campaign spokesman, did not respond to a request for comment.
Supervising editor is Austin Huguelet.