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Bond seeks investigation of US Attorneys

March 31, 1999
By: Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Republican Senator Kit Bond has requested an investigation into Missouri's US Attorneys' use of Justice Department resources to campaign against the state's concealed weapons ballot issue.

In a letter to US Attorney General Janet Reno, Bond called the Attorneys' actions "troubling at best and illegal at worst." He asked Reno to order the Attorneys to stop their campaign immediately while the Inspector General investigates their actions.

The Office of Inspector General is the arm of the Department that investigates alleged improprieties by federal officials or agencies. A carbon copy of Bond's letter was sent to Inspector General Michael Bromwich.

US Congressman Kenny Hulshof, R-Missouri, also sent Reno a letter regarding the Attorneys' actions.

"The fact that a federal office is siding on a statewide issue is cause for concern," said Hulshof, of Columbia. "It is an inappropriate use of tax dollars."

Missouri's US Attorneys, Edward Dowd and Stephen Hill, along with Missouri Police Chiefs Association President Ronald Scaggs, signed a letter that urged law enforcement officials throughout the state to rally resistance against Prop B, the concealed weapons ballot issue. Using Department letterhead, Dowd's office mailed the letter, which included an 800 number that officials could call to receive anti-Proposition B campaigning materials.

The 800 number has since been shut down by the US Attorneys' decision, said Department spokesperson Carole Florman.

However, in a follow-up call to Bond's letter, the Department told Bond staffers that it ordered the shut off, Bond spokesman Dan Hubbard said.

When asked what prompted the letter to Reno, Hubbard said only, "reports from the home state."

Last week, Bill Powers, spokesperson for the NRA, said the organization urged its Missouri members to call Bond's office to complain about the Attroneys' actions.

Hulshof spokesperson Lara Kennedy said Hulshof's office had received calls from constituents urging the Representative to act.

Bond's letter says, "It is my understanding that current Federal law prohibits the Department from using its federal appropriations for 'publicity or propaganda' purposes not authorized by Congress. I would hope that 'publicity or propaganda' would include efforts designed to influence pending legislation. . . I recognize that [the Attorneys'] letter requires a thorough legal analysis to determine its propriety or lack thereof."

Hulshof's letter does not go as far as to request an investigation. It does, however, lay out a series of questions for Reno to answer. Several of the questions were the same as those the Department has continually refused to answer for this publication.

The questions include:

*"What was the specific dollar amount spent on the mailing to law enforcement officials . . . ?"

*"How many man hours were spent on the preparation of the letter . . . and what is the dollar amount of their wages?"

*"What is the formal policy outlining a U.S. Attorney's involvement in a state referendum issue and how many times have they done so in the past?"

*"How many calls have been handled by the U.S. Attorney's 1-800 number and what is the projected cost of offering this service within the U.S. Attorney's office?"

Huslhof said his office had received no response from Reno or the Department. He said he did not expect to hear anything significant before the election.

The department has taken small steps in response to the letters.

Hubbard said the staffs of the two offices had been in contact, but, at this point, to reveal what the communication had been would be to indulge in speculation.

"A routine referral of the matter has been made to the Inspector General," Florman said. "When concerns are raised about the actions of federal officials, it is not uncommon for the matter to be sent to the Inspector General."

Hulshof supports Proposition B. Hubbard said Bond has a policy of not commenting on state issues.