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Missouri Treasurer Vivek Malek lays out his case for full four-year term

Vivek Malek, Missouri State Treasurer, photographed at St. Louis Public Radio Station on Monday June 24, 2024.
Theo R. Welling
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri State Treasurer Vivek Malek, photographed at St. Louis Public Radio on Monday.

State Treasurer Vivek Malek’s introduction to Missouri was quite different from other statewide officials'.

Malek came to the United States from India when he was 24. When he arrived in Cape Girardeau to get a master’s degree in business administration at Southeast Missouri State University, it was about a month before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“And that just completely changed my world as well as I saw Americans come together in unity once that event happened,” Malek said on an episode of Politically Speaking. “And that triggered for me to go to law school and study the American Constitution, the Bill of Rights and understand more about American politics.”

Gov. Mike Parson appointed him treasurer in 2023 after Scott Fitzpatrick became state auditor. Malek is the first person of color to hold statewide office in Missouri. He’s running for a full four-year term against five other GOP candidates in the Aug. 6 primary: House Budget Chairman Cody Smith, state Sen. Andrew Koenig, Springfield resident Lori Rook, St. Joseph resident Tina Goodrick and Berkeley resident Karan Pujji.

Malek has raised the most money by far for a statewide contest that typically flies under the radar.

Vivek Malek, incoming Missouri State Treasurer, stands at a podium. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson stands to the right of him.
Sarah Kellogg
St. Louis Public Radio
Vivek Malek, shown in 2022, is the first person of color to serve in a statewide elected position. Malek is also the fifth person Parson has appointed to a statewide elected office since his tenure began in mid-2018.

Gaming machine flap

Malek faced criticism earlier this year for putting decals for the state’s unclaimed property programs on gaming machines at gas stations and bars.

The so-called “gray machines” are opposed by some who contend they’re illegally skirting the state’s restrictions on gambling. The company that makes many of these machines, Torch, disputes that characterization and adds that the way the machines work makes them comply with the state’s laws.

Members of a House Appropriations subcommittee chastised Malek for placing decals on these machines. The chairman of that committee, Rep. Scott Cupps, R-Shell Knob, said on a recent edition of Politically Speaking that the decision was profoundly irresponsible, especially since it could provide the impression that the state is sanctioning the machines.

Malek said the decision to place the advertisements on the machines was part of his drive to return as much unclaimed property as possible to Missourians. He said he’s also partnered with banks and state fee offices to make people aware of the program.

But Malek also said he understands why placing them on the gaming machines in question was controversial, which is why he decided to take them off in February.

“Since this was a little hot-button issue, I decided it was not worth going through that — and maybe it’s not a sound political decision,” he said.

Malek said he will continue to be aggressive at getting unclaimed property returned as long as he’s state treasurer.

“In the year 2023, I broke every record of every past treasurer in returning money,” Malek said. “This year I broke my own record even though there’s still a week left for this fiscal year to end.”

Supporting MoBUCK$, bucking China

Other accomplishments he cites so far in office include expanding a program called MoBUCK$ that provides low-interest loans to certain businesses.

“When I became treasurer, my whole purpose was to do the job — not to get the job,” Malek said. “I have done great in my professional career and the business that I had. And now it was time for me to take some time off from my regular occupation, come to this field, and do my service as a public servant with a servant’s heart.”

Malek successfully pushed for Missouri’s pension board to divest from Chinese companies. He contends that because China has become more adversarial with the United States, it doesn’t make sense for Missouri to invest in companies there.

“I believe that we don’t want to be in a situation just like we were with Russia where all of the investments in Russia basically became zero when Russia invaded Ukraine,” Malek said.

If he wins a full four-year term, Malek will also continue to manage the Education Savings Account program. The account allows families to obtain funding to send children to the school of their choice, including private schools. The account is funded by private donors, who then receive tax credits from the state.

Malek said he’s been a big proponent of the program, which he says provides parents with more options when it comes to their kids’ education.

“This may not be the program for every school district,” Malek said. “It is just giving your kids, my kids and other kids … a choice that they can take and make their lives successful by getting a better education.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.