Democrats to choose challenger for Eric Schmitt in AG race

Associated Press
The Rolla Daily News

COLUMBIA — The two Democrats running to challenge incumbent GOP Attorney General Eric Schmitt both say they would operate the attorney general's office with an emphasis on improved transparency.

Elad Gross, 32, a former assistant attorney general under AG Chris Koster, said he decided to run during his legal fight to determine who was bankrolling former Gov. Eric Greitens' dark money nonprofit.

Rich Finneran, 36, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri for seven years, said he is running in part because of Schmitt's continued efforts to overturn the federal health care law, The Kansas City Star reported.

Schmitt was appointed to be Missouri's top legal officer after former AG Josh Hawley was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018, two years into his first term.

Gross filed a still-pending lawsuit in Cole County to determine who the secret donors were for Greitens' nonprofit. The lawsuit came after lawmakers dropped an investigation when Greitens resigned in June 2018 while facing possible criminal charges and impeachment.

Gross said that during arguments for that case in October 2018, an attorney representing the opposing side reminded the judge that the attorney general could intervene at any time.

"The attorney general should have been in that room," Gross said. "It shouldn't have been up to a private citizen to enforce the law."

Gross said he will enhance the attorney general's public corruption group and rein in anonymous campaign spending in Missouri. He also wants to enforce the state's Sunshine Law requiring open records and educate government officials to ensure its followed. 

Finneran also promised more transparency, saying he would make public all responses to Sunshine Law requests so "the press and public can see why any records were produced or not produced." He said he will not blindly defend government agencies that don't follow Missouri's open records and transparency laws.

Schmitt is among about two dozen Republican attorneys general who are part of a lawsuit that asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act. 

Finneran said the lawsuit needlessly politicized the attorney general's office.

"Eric Schmitt's lawsuit would take away coverage for pre-existing conditions," Finneran said. "It would eliminate guaranteed coverage for children who are on their parents insurance until they are 26. It's a waste of taxpayer resources to invest the attorney general's efforts to overturn a law that protects health care for the people of Missouri, especially in the midst of a global pandemic."

Gross also opposes overturning the federal health care law and both men support expanding Medicaid in Missouri. 

Gross and Finneran say Schmitt and Gov. Mike Parson are too focused on looking "tough on crime" and are ignoring better strategies to make Missouri's cities safer.

The Democrats say the goal should be to prevent crime by promoting safety, civic engagement and treating crime as a public health issue.