Springfield Business Journal — by: Nicole Galloway, State Auditor
From Washington, D.C., to Jefferson City to the county courthouse, Missourians entrust their public officials with great authority and responsibility. The vast majority of those officials earn that trust by carrying out their duties as faithful and hard-working public servants.
But when the public trust is broken – when authority and responsibility are abused – the results can have lasting damage in citizens’ confidence in their government. Clear consequences for public corruption can help restore the confidence of citizens, act as a strong deterrent to wrong-doing and help in recovering stolen taxpayer dollars.
To effectively fight public corruption and deliver those clear consequences, prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement agencies in Missouri need a variety of tools. As the state agency charged with investigating the misuse of public resources, the Missouri state auditor’s office is uniquely positioned to be a vital part of anti-corruption efforts.
Through information gained by audits and whistleblower complaints, my office’s investigations have exposed corruption by public officials and helped prosecutors and the Missouri attorney general’s office bring criminal charges in more than 30 cases. Our work also discovered that more than $132 million in taxpayer resources was misused or unaccounted for.
The auditor’s office has uncovered cases of local elected officials eliminating tax payments or fines for family members and friends. We have seen public officials directly steal taxpayer dollars for personal use, such as using an official credit card for thousands of dollars of personal purchases and awarding contracts to themselves that are paid for with your tax dollars. Unfortunately, other cases may never be brought if prosecutors lack the resources or expertise to conduct an audit.
I greatly value the partnerships the state auditor’s office has with prosecutors and law enforcement in stopping public corruption. But our current state law isn’t strong enough to protect Missourians and deter public officials from taking advantage of citizens. There is too much red tape that prevents law enforcement and the state auditor from easily working together to expose fraud and abuse.
That’s why Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, is again sponsoring legislation that would provide additional tools to hold public officials who abuse their authority accountable. Senate Bill 552 includes greater penalties in public corruption cases, including felony charges, and removes barriers to increased partnerships between the state auditor, prosecutors and law enforcement.
It’s important for Missourians to know that changing the law would make government more accountable. Sen. Dixon’s bill has my support and that of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, with St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar testifying in support of SB 552. As of this writing, the bill is awaiting further debate in the Senate.
While there is strong bipartisan support for the bill, there can be many hurdles before the finish line. We saw that happen in 2017 when Gov. Eric Greitens vetoed the bill that contained the provision for increased partnerships despite it having passed with a bipartisan vote. This is the year that this good government bill must pass and be signed into law.
As state auditor, I have traveled throughout Missouri to meet with prosecutors and community leaders to discuss issues related to public accountability and what needs to be done. They know that intentional misconduct has an impact on the integrity of government, and they want to have as many legal tools available as possible to enforce the law and stop corruption.
At every level, our government works best when it is most accountable to the citizens. SB 552 will help ensure greater accountability of public officials, and I urge the General Assembly to move quickly to put it on the governor’s desk for his signature.
Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.