MO House speaker’s actions ‘substantially impair’ public confidence, rejected report says

A report prepared for the Missouri House Ethics Committee found no direct evidence to support that House Speaker Dean Plocher committed an ethical violation in pursuit of an expensive technology contract even as the document painted a portrait of an obstructed investigation.

The report also found that Plocher received nearly $4,000 in government reimbursements for expenses already paid by his campaign. But it had no evidence indicating Plocher did it intentionally.

The Ethics Committee voted 2 to 6 against adopting the report Monday evening in a tense and at-times confusing meeting after its months-long investigation into the top Republican in the Missouri House.

Monday’s meeting offered the public its first glimpse into an investigation that has loomed over the Missouri House since October. The committee, which typically reviews complaints against lawmakers in secret, opened the meeting with a motion to adopt the long-awaited report.

“Respondent’s conduct in submitting inaccurate expense forms warrants appropriate action by the House of Representatives,” the report said, referring to Plocher. “The Respondent’s actions substantially impair public confidence in the General Assembly.”

After each of the committee members silently reviewed the report, Rep. Hannah Kelly, a Mountain Grove Republican, motioned for a vote to approve it. While the motion failed, the vote meant that its findings were released to the public.

After the report became public, Plocher was inside his office in the Missouri Capitol. His staff told reporters that he declined comment.

Kelly, who was facing intense pressure to release the report, told reporters that leaks to the media had raised questions about who was releasing information about the behind-closed-doors investigation.

She said after the meeting that the report shows “absolute obstruction” to the investigation by Plocher’s office.

Kelly’s decision to call for a vote meant that the contents of the report could not be shielded from the public eye as Plocher mounts a campaign for secretary of state.

“I don’t know what more can be done,” Kelly told reporters. “It is what it is.”

The document included three recommendations: a letter of disapproval against Plocher; a requirement that no lawmakers or staff be retaliated against for assisting the committee’s investigation; and that Plocher use an accounting professional to handle his expenses.

But the report stopped short of recommending Plocher’s removal or expulsion from the General Assembly.

It’s unclear what the committee will do next after failing to adopt Monday’s report. The panel is scheduled to meet two more times this week.

The report confirmed that the committee investigated Plocher’s push for the House to issue a $800,000 contract for an outside company to manage constituent information. Plocher denied receiving any “quid pro quo” for his efforts and the committee found no direct evidence to indicate an ethical violation.

The report also found that Plocher, on eight separate occasions, received reimbursements on travel expenses that were already paid by his campaign. He received a total of $3,998 in public funds based on those false forms. But the report indicated that there was no evidence “this was a willful or intentional act instead of an oversight.”

The document also confirmed that the committee probed Plocher’s firing of his former chief of staff, Kenny Ross, and alleged threats against Dana Miller, the House chief clerk. It found no direct evidence implicating Plocher in specific threats.

But the document states that several employees provided information to the committee regarding a negative work environment, “which may involve threats by one or more individuals.”

The final two pages of the report found that Beth Boggs, the special counsel hired to assist the committee, was forced to conclude her investigation without speaking to several witnesses.

The investigator’s report painted a portrait of obstruction.

“I have not encountered more unwilling witnesses in any investigation in my career,” she wrote. “The level of fear expressed by a number of the potential witnesses is a daunting factor in completing this investigation.”

The report detailed how one witness, who was anonymous, feared that her employment was at risk for testifying before the committee. It stated that Rep. Dale Wright, a Farmington Republican who chairs the House Accounts Committee, “highly encouraged” the witness not to testify.

It also found that Plocher, through his attorney, denied several subpoenas that were requested by the committee. Plocher, as speaker, is in charge of handling subpoenas. The report stated that the inability to compel witnesses “caused unnecessary delay” and hindered the investigation.

One of the committee members, Rep. Rick Francis, a Perryville Republican, told reporters on Monday that he voted against the report because he wanted more time to discuss its contents.

“There was more in the report that I wanted to discuss — whether it should be in or should not be in that report,” he said.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

The Star’s Jonathan Shorman contributed to this story.