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Missouri Republicans call for investigation of Dean Plocher, raise idea of resignation

Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, addresses the media on Friday, May 12, 2023, during the last day of the legislative session in Jefferson City, Mo.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, addresses the media on Friday, May 12, 2023, during the last day of the legislative session in Jefferson City, Mo.

Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher is facing calls for his resignation following revelations that he filed false expense reports with the legislature to be personally reimbursed for travel already paid for by his campaign.

Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher is facing calls for his resignation following revelations that he filed false expense reports with the legislature to be personally reimbursed for travel already paid for by his campaign.

Plocher, a Republican from Des Peres, chalked up the situation to “administrative errors,” vowing to review all of his expenses and reimburse any money he was wrongly paid over the years. He began writing checks to the House last week.

“Missourians deserve complete transparency and accountability from their elected representatives, which I’ve delivered and will continue to deliver as speaker,” Plocher said in a statement posted on social media.

A day after The Independent’s story about Plocher’s expense reports, prominent Republicans began calling for a formal inquiry — and suggesting it could cost Plocher his job.

“The allegations against the speaker of the House are significant and serious,” Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a GOP candidate for governor, posted on social media. “I call on the legislature to swiftly investigate and, if proven, to take action to protect the integrity of the House of Representatives and the people’s money.”

Will Scharf, a Republican candidate for attorney general, was the first to speak up Tuesday, posting on social media that the allegations against Plocher of “unethical double dipping should be deeply troubling to all Missourians who care about cleaning up Jefferson City.”

Scharf donated to Plocher’s campaign last year, chipping in two donations totaling $1,500.

“Speaker Plocher owes Missouri taxpayers an explanation,” Scharf said, “and if he can’t provide one he should resign.”

State Sen. Bill Eigel, a Weldon Spring Republican and candidate for governor, said in an emailed statement that when people say “throw the bums out” they are “thinking about politicians like Dean Plocher.”

“This is simple — he has stolen from taxpayers and violated our trust, he should resign immediately,” Eigel said. “And of course Plocher should be forced to reimburse the hardworking Missouri taxpayers who paid for his vacation in Hawaii.”

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, who is also running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2024, said Missourians expect elected officials to be good stewards of their tax dollars.

“This expectation is reasonable, appropriate and foundational for governance,” Kehoe said in a prepared statement. “I urge every elected official at every level to practice transparency and responsibility with Missourians’ tax dollars.”

State Rep. Chris Sander, a Lone Jack Republican, posted on Facebook a statement he provided to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch slamming Plocher for asking taxpayers “to fund $4,862.77 for a seven-day vacation in Hawaii.”

Plocher was already facing scrutiny over his push to convince the House to spend $800,000 to hire a private company to manage constituent information. Nonpartisan staff accused Plocher of illegal and unethical conduct in pursuit of the contract, including threatening the employment of the chief clerk.

In the fallout from the controversy, Plocher fired his chief of staff.

The House Ethics Committee is scheduled to convene on Friday, and while committee members have given no hints about the focus of the closed-door hearing, it is widely believed to be about Plocher.

“My primary focus is working with my colleagues who elected me speaker to pass a forward-looking conservative agenda next session that brings greater opportunity and prosperity to Missouri while protecting our Constitutional freedoms,” Plocher posted on social media Tuesday afternoon. “The sideshows and political spectacle must end so we can get back to doing the important work Missourians expect of us.”

The Independent reviewed 300 pages of Plocher’s expense reimbursements that it obtained through Missouri’s Sunshine Law on Oct. 11.

On at least nine occasions since 2018, Plocher spent campaign money on conference registration, airfare, hotels and other travel expenses, and then also sought reimbursement from the legislature. In each instance, Plocher was required to sign a sworn statement declaring that the payments were made with “personal funds, for which I have not been reimbursed.”

The treasurer for his campaign committee is Plocher’s wife.

Submitting false expense reports could be prosecuted as stealing from the state, a class A misdemeanor. It could also be considered false declaration, a class B misdemeanor that involves knowingly submitting any written false statement. Plocher could also have run afoul of laws prohibiting campaign contributions from being converted to personal use.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said misappropriation of public funds is a “serious and potentially criminal matter, and it is especially troubling when it involves the speaker of the House.”

“I’m deeply concerned that the speaker’s actions weren’t just a one-time mistake, but part of a consistent pattern over five years,” said Quade, who is running for governor next year. “Allegations of corruption happen far too often in Jefferson City and Missourians deserve better.”

Plocher, a Republican attorney from Des Peres, announced earlier this month that he was running for lieutenant governor. Prior to becoming a member of the House, Plocher served as a prosecuting attorney and municipal judge in St. Louis County.

In 2015, Plocher won a special election to replace Republican House Speaker John Diehl, who was forced to resign following revelations he had been sending sexually-charged text messages to a 19-year-old legislative intern.

Diehl’s predecessor in the seat, Scott Muschany, resigned in 2008 over allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor. A year later, he was acquitted on all charges stemming from the allegations.

This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom.

Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Jason Hancock