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Ethics investigation into Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher continues

The House ethics committee met for nearly three hours Wednesday, the third time its held a closed-door hearing about alleged misconduct by Plocher

by Jason Hancock, Missouri Independent
December 6, 2023The House ethics committee met for nearly three hours Wednesday, the third time its held a closed-door hearing about alleged misconduct by Plocher

An investigation into alleged misconduct by Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher remains ongoing, as a panel of state lawmakers emerged from a nearly three hour behind-closed-doors hearing on Wednesday and gave no indication of when the inquiry will conclude. 

The investigation of Plocher could stretch into the next legislative session, which begins on Jan. 3.

“Due process takes time,” said state Rep. Robert Sauls, an Independence Democrat and vice chair of the House Ethics Committee, later adding: “We want to be thorough to make sure that we are doing what we’re supposed to and ensuring that due process is followed.”

Wednesday’s hearing was the third by the House Ethics Committee to focus on Plocher. Proceedings of the committee are confidential, and none of the discussions, testimony or evidence gathered is public until a report is issued. The public notice for Wednesday’s hearing said the the committee would discuss a “personnel inquiry” and an ethics complaint, and lawmakers have neither confirmed nor denied the focus of the inquiry. 

Records show Dean Plocher charged the state for travel already paid for by his campaign

But the investigation was launched after The Independent reported last month that Plocher on numerous occasions illegally sought reimbursement from the legislature for airfare, hotels and other travel costs already paid for by his campaign. 

The revelation followed weeks of scrutiny surrounding Plocher’s unsuccessful push to award a contract to a company to manage constituent information and a decision to fire his chief of staff. 

Plocher, a Republican from Des Peres running for lieutenant governor, has flatly denied any wrongdoing, chalking up false expense reports to a “checkbook error.” He paid back the illegal reimbursements, saying he and his wife — who is also his campaign treasurer — caught the mistakes and self-reported them. 

But though the false reports went back years, Plocher didn’t begin making repayments until two weeks after The Independent submitted a Sunshine request seeking his expense reports.

State Rep. Hannah Kelly, a Republican from Mountain View and chair of the House Ethics Committee, told reporters following Wednesday’s hearing that the committee’s work is not done but a future hearing has not been officially scheduled. 

“Our task is to protect the integrity of the institution,” Kelly said, later adding: “Our job is to make sure that the ethics of the institution and of the individuals of this state that we work for are upheld.”

The 10-member ethics committee is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.

When a complaint is received, the first step is for the committee to determine whether the complaint was filed in the proper form. Once the committee is satisfied that it is, a vote is held on whether to proceed to a “primary hearing” where the subject of the complaint is given a chance to answer the charges.

The committee must allow 21 days for the answer to be received in writing. The answer can be an objection to the jurisdiction of the committee to conduct an investigation. At the conclusion of the primary hearing, the committee has the choice of dismissing the complaint, proceeding to a formal hearing, behind closed doors, or allowing the member to accept a sanction for misconduct. 

When an investigation proceeds to a formal hearing, the committee has 45 days after it finishes taking testimony to deliver a report to the House.

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.