JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's Democratic auditor on Tuesday asked the state attorney general to weigh in on whether Republican Gov. Mike Parson broke the law by redacting information from requested public records.
The Kansas City Star has made multiple public record requests to the governor in recent months. But Parson's office has cited the First Amendment in redacting phone numbers, addresses and emails of private citizens who contacted the governor, the newspaper reported.
The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech, religion, assembly, the press and the right to petition.
"Government should not be in the business of finding ways to hide information from taxpayers, but time and again, we have seen continued efforts to do just that," the state auditor, Nicole Galloway, said in a statement.
A Parson spokesman, Steele Shippy, has argued constituents would not contact elected officials if they believed their contact information might become public. He issued a statement Tuesday calling Galloway's criticism "another lame partisan political attempt."
"The Governor's office will continue to protect the personal information of Missourians, as the law allows for under both the First Amendment and Missouri's Sunshine Law," Shippy said.
Shippy also said the auditor has "zero credibility when it comes to properly handling government records," alluding to a conservative nonprofit's unsuccessful lawsuit accusing Galloway of withholding records requested under the Sunshine law. The Missouri Alliance for Freedom alleged that the auditor's office use of iPhones that automatically erase messages after 30 days violated the office's procedures for preserving records. But a judge ruled Monday the group didn't prove that the auditor's office intentionally or mistakenly violated the Sunshine Law.
Parson's policy "provides greater protections to those lobbying or conducting business with the government entity than is given to individuals who are referenced in arrest and incident report records," Galloway wrote in her request for an opinion from Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
"While this office does not believe that the First Amendment exception is a valid exception under Missouri law, it requests the opinion of the Attorney General to ensure that it is properly complying with the law," Galloway wrote.
Schmitt's spokesman, Chris Nuelle, said the office is reviewing Galloway's request and deciding on further steps.
"The Attorney General is dedicated to protecting, defending, and enforcing the Sunshine Law, and he works every day to ensure transparency at all levels of government," Nuelle said in an email to the newspaper.