News Roundup: Missouri’s Anti-Transparency Bill, Election Denial, and the Constitutional Sheriffs Movement

Missouri’s Anti-Transparency Bill

Another state legislature — Missouri’s — is moving to shield itself from public scrutiny. A bill advancing in the state Senate would allow lawmakers to block the release of a wide range of previously available records, severely limiting the information the public can obtain regarding legislative activities.

  • One provision would permit lawmakers and their staff to withhold any records that pertain to “legislation or the legislative process,” only requiring documents to be released if they involve a registered lobbyist or were shared in a public meeting.
  • But the definition of “public meeting” would also change in a way that would allow many government bodies to close their doors and deny entry to ordinary citizens.
  • If passed, the bill would also allow emergency response officials in the Missouri executive branch to withhold vast amounts of information regarding planning and preparation for emergencies, including toxic waste leaks.

The bill, which advanced to the full Senate on a party-line vote, comes less than five years after Missouri voters passed a referendum amending the state constitution to require that legislative records and proceedings be open to the public and subject to the state’s Sunshine Law. 

  • “This partisan bill isn’t just an attack on open and accountable government, it’s an affront to Missouri voters and a dangerous bid for secret lawmaking in the Show Me State,” said American Oversight’s executive director Heather Sawyer.
  • We’ve already seen such an anti-transparency ploy in another state this year: In late January, the Arizona Legislature adopted rule changes that largely exempted lawmakers from Arizona’s transparency laws. Read more about that here.

Election Denial

On Wednesday, ProPublica published an in-depth look at how the Thomas More Society, an anti-abortion legal group, has embraced the election denial movement as part of its long-term strategy.

  • “Leaping into the 2020 ‘Stop the Steal’ frenzy, which was consistently discredited,” wrote ProPublica, “the Thomas More Society aggressively pursued scores of lawsuits and complaints across the country” — including in Wisconsin, home to the discredited and partisan election investigation initiated by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
  • Our litigation for records revealed the group’s outsized influence over that inquiry, from its subleasing of office space to its representatives being in frequent contact with attorney Michael Gableman, who led the inquiry until his firing last summer.
  • That inquiry continues to rack up the bill to taxpayers. And this week, Gableman faced a new ethics complaint, filed with the state’s Office of Lawyer Regulation by Law Forward. Read American Oversight’s statement on that complaint here.

Here are other recent stories regarding election denial:

  • Arizona child welfare director dismissed amid GOP attacks speaks out (ProPublica)
  • Kari Lake asks Supreme Court to take up her case to overturn the 2022 election (Arizona Mirror)
  • Cochise County gives election skeptic recorder near full control of elections (Arizona Mirror)
  • Arizona governor seeks ethics review of former attorney general (Washington Post
  • Murdoch admits some Fox hosts ‘were endorsing’ election falsehoods (Washington Post)
  • Conservative group steps in to aid Michigan Trump electors (Detroit News)
  • Failing at polls, election deniers focus on state GOP posts (Associated Press)
  • Trump, ‘election integrity’ remain Colorado GOP focus as chairperson selection nears (Colorado Newsline)
  • West Virginia adds to election deniers’ ongoing takeover of state politics (Bolts)

On the Records

The Constitutional Sheriffs Movement

This week, Slate reported on records we obtained that provide previously unknown details about the Claremont Institute’s 2022 Sheriffs Fellowship, a weeklong event at which so-called constitutional sheriffs were invited to receive trainings and discuss far-right ideas.

  • The Claremont Institute hosted its inaugural fellowship in 2021, during which participants attended lectures on social justice, race, and the rights of sheriffs, among other topics. The records we obtained reveal that 2022’s event focused heavily on pro-gun issues.
  • American Oversight has been investigating the threats to democracy presented by the “constitutional sheriffs” movement, which holds that sheriffs have more law enforcement power in their home counties than any other government body or individual. Read more here.

Other Stories We’re Following

Jan. 6 Investigations and Trump Accountability
  • Trump can be sued by police over Jan. 6 riot, Justice Department says (Washington Post)
  • House GOP moving to let Jan. 6 defendants access Capitol security footage (Politico)
  • ‘Make it a spectacle’: Proud Boys leader Tarrio key to Jan. 6, U.S. says (Washington Post)
  • McCarthy defends Carlson’s access to Jan. 6 footage, calls media ‘jealous’ (Washington Post)
  • Fox leaders wanted to break from Trump but struggled to make it happen (New York Times)
  • Feds inadvertently reveal they’re looking into Trump’s shady ‘recount’ campaign (Daily Beast)
Voting Rights
  • More states appear poised to expand voting access for people who were incarcerated (NPR)
  • Georgia Senate panel passes bill to expand ability to challenge voters (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
  • Texas lawmakers take first step to restoring felony penalty for illegal voting (Texas Tribune)
  • Some Democratic-led states seek to strengthen protections for voting rights (PBS)
  • Lawmakers get closer to passing bill that would expand voting rights and accessibility (Source New Mexico)
In the States
  • Why one state’s plan to unwind a Covid-era Medicaid rule is raising red flags (Politico)
  • Ron DeSantis uses these Florida right-wing sites to make national news (Grid News)
  • Ron DeSantis’ education policies leave Florida teachers feeling unsure (Wall Street Journal)
  • New College of Florida board abolishes diversity office after emotional debate (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)
  • DeSantis ‘review’ of public records can add months of delays, newly uncovered log reveals (News 6 Central Florida)
  • Mississippi could renew ballot initiatives but ban them on abortion (Associated Press
  • Pa. Senate committee votes to subpoena Norfolk Southern CEO (Pennsylvania Capital Star)
  • Where restrictions on abortion pills could matter most (New York Times)
Attacks on LGBTQ Rights
  • Arizona Republican senators pass anti-trans school bathroom bill (Arizona Mirror)
  • Mississippi governor signs bill banning transgender care for minors (NBC News)
  • Oklahoma House approves bill to ban insurance coverage for transgender care (The Oklahoman)
  • Republican Texas lawmakers rally around bill restricting the college sports teams transgender athletes can join (Texas Tribune)
National News
  • New Biden cybersecurity strategy assigns responsibility to tech firms (New York Times)
  • Senators unveil rail safety bill after Ohio train derailment (NBC News)
  • Eli Lilly to cut insulin prices, cap costs at $35 for many people with diabetes (CNN)
  • Justice Department sues two companies over pollution in Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley’ (Guardian)
  • How environmentally conscious investing became a target of conservatives (New York Times)
  • Alone and exploited, migrant children work brutal jobs across the U.S. (New York Times)
  • ICE, prison targeted immigrants seeking medical care, complaint says (Nevada Current)