Target 8: Hawley Attack Ad Fact Check

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COLUMBIA - Missouri's Senate race between Attorney General Josh Hawley and Sen. Claire McCaskill is shaping up to what some are calling one of the most competitive and most dramatic elections this midterm election season.

Attack ads have already hit the airwaves, and Columbia College political science professor Terry Smith said the number of ads are only going to increase in the next few months. 

“In 2016, at just the federal level alone, there were $8 billion spent on elections," Smith said. "There’s lots of money out there. In Missouri, the laws are pretty flexible and permissive. Just wait until this season progresses because there are going to be tens of millions of dollars spent in Missouri on this Senate race.”

Senate Majority PAC's latest ad takes aim at Attorney General Josh Hawley's alleged link to mega donors and his self-proclaimed record of fighting corruption in Jefferson City. Here is the Target 8 team's analysis of the ad against Hawley.

Claim: Josh Hawley took nearly $3 million from a single donor who was accused of an illegal "pay to play" scheme with lawmakers.

We found this claim to be true. According to the Missouri Ethics Commission, the donor referred to in the ad, Joplin businessman David Humphreys, donated $2.75 million to Hawley's Attorney General campaign in 2016.

Humphreys was then accused of a "pay to play" scandal involving Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard (R-District 32). Both men have denied any wrongdoing. 

Smith said SMP is going to capitalize on the idea of "pay to play," the relationship to Humphreys and Hawley's campaign promise to combat corruption.

Smith said "pay to play" is shorthand for "somebody making a donation to a campaign and then having some expectation of a payback in the sense of maybe supporting a policy or proposing legislation or maybe opposing legislation that benefits the donor."

Smith added, "that’s why people are so skeptical of campaign finance because that looks like corruption to lots of people. It’s really normal business."

When asked about the situation in April, Hawley told KCUR that his office didn't have criminal jurisdiction over "pay-to-play" allegations in the Capitol. He said that would have to be handled by the local county prosecutor.

Claim: Hawley has taken no action. He said he saw nothing wrong, and admits he hadn't looked at evidence in the case. This in reference to the "pay to play" scandal.

We found this claim to be incomplete. When Hawley spoke about the case to the Kansas City Star, he said he doesn’t see any evidence of corruption involving Humphreys and Senate Pro Tem Richard’s relationship because there is no evidence.

“You have a contributor who gives to someone, and that’s not against the law,” Hawley told the KC Star. “We’ve received no evidence in that case that would suggest any wrongdoing. In fact, we’ve received no evidence at all in that case.” 

SMP communications director Chris Hayden said Hawley is not looking hard enough for evidence.

“An attorney general, if they’re really concerned about it, they can look for evidence and make it a priority for them. Josh Hawley does not believe this is a priority for his office," Hayden said.

Ad takes shots at Hawley's Public Corruption Unit

When Hawley ran for attorney general he promised his office would “take a more aggressive role in aiding local and federal prosecutors investigating allegations of corruption.”  Since he was elected, Hawley has created a "public corruption unit." 

In an email, Hawley for Senate spokeswoman Kelli Ford said he has stuck to his campaign promises. She said there are people working specifically for this unit and they've prosecuted four different people. 

“The bottom line is Hawley has prioritized prosecuting public corruption and created a team to make it happen," Ford said. "Regardless of whether the group is a team or unit, Hawley’s office still has a working group of lawyers who have already prosecuted four officials for public corruption.” 

Hayden is standing by the ad's claims.

“It’s that kind of disfunction that you’re seeing with Gov. Greitens that Josh Hawley said he would clean up, but he’s not," Hayden said. "He’s trying to run from that job. He has shown no ability to clean up Jefferson City. Missouri voters should not trust that he has any ability to clean up Washington, D.C.”

In addition to the creation of a corruption unit, Hawley has also enacted an ethics policy for his employees that prohibits them from accepting gifts from lobbyists.

Ford said claims made about Hawley's record have been false in the past, and this is another attempt to discredit his campaign.

"Claire McCaskill is pushing false information about Josh’s record as attorney general in hopes of pulling the wool over voters' eyes – and all of her liberal friends are in on it,” Ford said. “Their claims about his efforts on public corruption were rated ‘mostly false’ months ago. Unfortunately, this shows what kind of campaign she’s running. She is in the worst position of her 36-year political career, and she will do anything – even lie – to tear Josh down.”  

Voters will head to the polls for the midterm elections set for Nov. 6. For more TARGET 8 Fact Checks, click here.