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Did Steelman leave office with state records?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 31, 2011 - The national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee today accused former Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman of possibly breaking state law because she may have taken more than her personal effects when she left office in January 2009.

A spokesman for the DSCC acknowledged in an interview that it had sent an open-records request to current state Treasurer Clint Zweifel's office for emails, official schedules and other items pertaining to Steelman's four years in office. 

Steelman, of course, is arguably the best-known Republican to announce plans to challenge U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo

Steelman's old records are to be retained up to three years, depending on the document, and stored in the state Archives, which is under the jurisdiction of Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.

But according to Zweifel's spokesman Jon Galloway today, Carnahan's staff --and a senior employee with the state Archives -- reported that no such documents existed from Steelman's tenure.

Galloway provided the Beacon with a copy of an email from the Archives confirming that "the Archives does not have any records from the Treasurer's office for the 2005-2009 years." 

"Our team has searched the office for any schedules and we do not have them," Galloway said this afternoon. "We have emails that were received by former Treasurer Steelman to her state email, but there are no 'sents,' " referring to her emailed replies.

"...We asked Secretary Carnahan's team for any records that were turned over at the end of her term and there were no executive boxes from her administration," Galloway said.

Such open-records requests are standard for political parties and candidates, as they seek to find damaging information about a rival.

AfterPoliticofirst reported on the apparently missing documents, the DSCC then came out today with a release asserting that the former treasurer's name perhaps should be "Stealman,'' and accused her of failing to abide by state record-preservation laws. The DSCC noted Steelman's public comments in 2007 -- at the height of an email-retention controversy involving the staff of then-Gov. Matt Blunt -- that her office had an elaborate system for storing and preserving all records.

DSCC press secretary Shripal Shah told the Beacon: "These discoveries are relevant because they discredit every principle that Steelman claims to stand for. It's now impossible to take anything she says about openness and government transparency seriously."

Asked the DSCC in its initial release: "Where are the documents? Either Sarah Steelman or the national Republican establishment that is propping up her candidacy need to answer that question," said Matt Canter, spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "It's hypocrisy of the highest degree. Steelman flatters herself as a champion for open records laws and even bragged to the press about the procedures she established to maintain records for the public. Now, we discover that most of these key records are gone."

Steelman's campaign sent the Beacon this afternoon a statement identical to what it earlier gave Politico. Steelman's spokeswoman contended that the Democratic attack was aimed at diverting attention from the continuing problems facing McCaskill, who has come under fire for a plane co-owned by her family and used by her for political and senatorial travel. The biggest heat has been generated by McCaskill's disclosure that her family failed to pay close to $300,000 in taxes owed to St. Louis County, where the plane was hangared.

Said Steelman spokeswoman Jennifer Morris: "Sen. McCaskill's liberal allies are so desperate to change the storyline from Sen. McCaskill's failure to pay over $300,000 in taxes over four years, they are frantically engaging in gotcha politics to find anything which distracts from the central issue: that Sen. McCaskill has clearly proven she cannot be trusted to safeguard tax dollars."

The initial details on McCaskill's plane ownership and usage are believed to have come from national Republican groups who have been conducting the same kind of record searches on McCaskill that the DSCC is attempting to do with Steelman.

An intriguing sidenote: The missing-records accusations against Steelman also are similar to attacks that Democrats are expected to launch against the other announced Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, St. Louis lawyer Ed Martin.

Martin was Blunt's chief of staff during the controversy over missing emails that led to several court battles that cost the state millions of dollars in legal fees, and an investigation by a independent team named by then-Attorney General Jay Nixon. The two-year controversy touched off accusations on both sides, from different perspectives, that politics loomed large in that fight.

Hundreds of thousands of office emails, including hundreds from Martin, ended up being recovered and turned over to news outlets. So the DSCC shouldn't have as much trouble getting ahold of them. Martin has said the whole case was overblown for political reasons.