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Missouri GOP and Democrat AG rivals agree on one thing: state government is ‘viciously corrupt’

The three major-party candidates for Missouri attorney general, from left, Will Scharf, Andrew Bailey and Elad Gross (campaign photos).
The three major-party candidates for Missouri attorney general, from left, Will Scharf, Andrew Bailey and Elad Gross (campaign photos).

Republican Will Scharf and Democrat Elad Gross disagreed on almost every issue Monday night during a forum of attorney general candidates in St. Louis.

They aren’t on the same page on dealing with violent crime or protecting speech on campus. They crossed swords over abortion rights and access to contraception. And they couldn’t agree on the integrity of the 2020 presidential election.

But Scharf and Gross were in lock step on one issue: They believe state government is being manipulated by special interests, to the detriment of Missouri taxpayers. And both point the finger directly at the incumbent attorney general, Andrew Bailey.

“Elad and I agree that Jefferson City is viciously corrupt,” Scharf said, adding: “The political class in this state has fundamentally failed the people of Missouri.”

Gross quipped during the forum that, “I told you we’re going to agree on a lot of stuff today,” going on to declare that the Missouri attorney general’s office needs to create a public corruption unit.

The idea drew applause from the audience — and from Scharf.

“We need to have serious enforcement against corruption in Missouri,” Gross said.

The pair are hoping to replace Bailey, a Republican running for a full term in office after being appointed to the job by Gov. Mike Parson in 2022.

Bailey did not attend Monday’s forum, citing scheduling conflicts. The event was sponsored by the Federalist Society, a conservative legal advocacy group whose leadership has largely backed Scharf and has been involved in almost every high-profile conservative judicial appointment of recent decades.

Gross is running unopposed in the Aug. 6 Democratic primary, while Scharf and Bailey are engaged in a heated GOP contest, with the massive fundraising hauls translating into a nasty TV ad war across the state.

One of Scharf’s main lines of attack has been Bailey taking donations from lobbyists and companies whose interests intersect with the attorney general’s office.

For example, last year the attorney general had torecuse his office from litigation filed by companies accused of operating illegal gambling devices, forcing the state to hire private counsel. The recusal came after Bailey received thousands in contributions from PACs connected to the chief lobbyist for the companies suing the state.

Bailey also drew fire over accepting a $50,000 donation from a St. Louis company shortly after filing an amicus brief backing its efforts to move a lead-poisoning lawsuit it was facing out of Missouri.

“When you look at Jefferson City today,” Scharf said Monday, “you see a political culture that’s deeply in hock to a very narrow set of special interests and lobbyists and political insiders.”

Bailey has denied any wrongdoing, and his campaign has noted that Scharf’s bid for attorney general is being bankrolled by out-of-state interests, namely conservative activist Leonard Leo.

On Tuesday, an organization connected with Leo donated $2 million to support Scharf’s candidacy. Since joining the race for attorney general, Scharf has benefited from $3.5 million in donations from the organization, making up a majority of the money he’s received in the race.

Gross is a former assistant attorney general who currently runs his own law firm in St. Louis. His legal practice focuses on the Sunshine Law. In 2021, he won a landmark ruling from the Missouri Supreme Court that public agencies could not charge for time attorneys spend reviewing public records that are requested under the state’s Sunshine Law.

Bailey served as general counsel for Parson before taking over as attorney general when his predecessor, Eric Schmitt, won a seat in the U.S. Senate. He previously worked as an assistant prosecuting attorney in Warren County, an assistant attorney general and general counsel for the Missouri Department of Corrections.

Scharf is a former assistant U.S. attorney who worked as policy director in Gov. Eric Greitens’ brief administration. He left state government when Greitens was forced to resign in disgrace in 2018. He is currently part of athe team of lawyers representing former President Donald Trump in various legal matters pertaining to his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Jason Hancock-Missouri Independent