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Recent Missouri Editorials

December 25, 2018

The Kansas City Star, Dec. 22

Hawley’s political use of staff was definitely hypocritical — and potentially illegal

It’s against the law to use public resources in a state office for political purposes. On-the-clock office time of a state employee does qualify as a public resource.

And records that Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office released on Friday confirm that state employees often did take direction on how to spend their work hours from the out-of-state political consultants hired to raise Hawley’s national profile. Those consultants soon wound up running Hawley’s successful U.S. Senate campaign against Democratic Sen Claire McCaskill.

As reported by The Star in October, Hawley’s staff used private email to communicate with national consultants Gail Gitcho and Timmy Teepell, who held regular conference calls with state employees during office hours and handed out assignments to state staff. All this began soon after Hawley, who ran for attorney general on the promise that he would not be a typical “ladder-climbing” politician, took office in 2017.

“Jefferson City is full of career politicians just trying to climb the ladder, using one office to get another,” Hawley said as a candidate. “I think you deserve better.”

If his politicization of office staff time is not illegal, it is at a minimum some dizzyingly high-octane hypocrisy.

The documents show that consultants were involved in many aspects of the attorney general office’s work, including communications, policy, administration, personnel and asking employees to compile a list of legislators it would be helpful to get to know.

After The Star’s story ran, the liberal American Democracy Legal Fund founded by David Brock filed a complaint with the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office accusing Hawley’s office of using public resources to support his campaign.

In response to the complaint, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a fellow Republican, launched an investigation. It’s to Ashcroft’s credit that he requested the cooperation of the office of Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, who has the subpoena power that Ashcroft’s office does not.

They will look into whether the political consultants directed the attorney general’s staff to do work that was political in nature.

There is no record of public funds going to Gitcho and Teepell, and Hawley’s office has deemed the complaint “frivolous.”

But a 2010 code of conduct manual for the Missouri attorney general’s office defines state resources as, “an employee’s position, time, benefits, state supplied materials, equipment and vehicles. State resources also include documents, records and confidential information that an employee would not have come into contact with but for his/her work at the AGO. State resources also include the subject matter and work product arising from actions in which the AGO participates, has participated or is likely to participate. It is every employee’s duty to use state resources solely for the purpose for which the resource was provided, for the benefit of the state and the performance of his/her job duties.”

It does not explicitly say that trying to get the attorney general elected to the U.S. Senate from the moment of his election as attorney general is not a job duty that would benefit the state. But then, the naifs who wrote that manual did not see Josh Hawley coming.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 23

Returning artifacts means confronting an ugly history

France recently reignited international debate on what to do with artwork in Western museums stolen from former colonies and war-torn states. France has agreed to return 26 works plundered from Benin in West Africa. The move followed a report commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron recommending the wholesale return of cultural artifacts looted during the colonial era.

Africa has been particularly hard-hit, with about 90 percent of its most cherished antiquities now believed to be in Europe. The report identified approximately 46,000 objects at the Musee du Quai Branly alone that would qualify for repatriation. Repatriating 26 items is just a start.

Britain has offered to loan back some of its looted artifacts, which is a ludicrous notion. Possessors of stolen property should not get to set the terms for their return. At some point, atonement and transparency must come into play. The United States has returned thousands of artifacts since 2007.

But the process is rarely easy for the victimized countries.

A three-year legal battle involving the sacred funerary mask of Ka-nefer-nefer at the St. Louis Art Museum ended in the museum’s favor in 2014. The Department of Justice had argued that the mask was illegally taken from Egypt before it was eventually purchased by the museum. The museum sued the U.S. government when asked to return the mask to Egypt. The Justice Department couldn’t prove exactly when and how the mask was stolen, but the museum should have acknowledged that there was a credible claim against its ownership.

Nowhere in the museum’s display of this treasure does it suggest it has a contested provenance. The museum should follow the example set by France and publicly acknowledge in its display that the mask’s provenance has been legally challenged.

Similar challenges come up regularly whenever artwork and other cherished possessions plundered from Jews under Hitler’s Third Reich surface elsewhere in the world. Just because the buyer paid good money for the objects doesn’t erase the original crime underlying prior transactions.

This isn’t just an ethical question. Transparency also is in the long-term interests of cultural institutions in maintaining public trust.

Western nations that have resisted repatriation have long offered a paternalistic defense: The rightful owners simply cannot be trusted to care for their own heritage. Witness the wanton destruction that befell ancient works in Iraq and Syria when Islamic State militants seized control. But if Western institutions intervene to save cultural heritage from destruction, they shouldn’t interpret temporary possession as conveying permanent ownership.

Naturally, there are museums that simply do not want to give up treasures that draw visitors and enrich their offerings regardless of how they were acquired. Institutions that pride themselves as preserving cultural heritage must face the truth that keeping stolen objects is preserving a crime — not culture.

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