By Steve Vockrodt, Lindsay Wise and Jason Hancock

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has launched an investigation into a complaint that Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley used public resources in his successful bid for the U.S. Senate.

The American Democracy Legal Fund on Nov. 2 filed a complaint with Ashcroft, claiming that Hawley used out-of-state political consultants to direct the activities of public employees in the attorney general's office to raise Hawley's political profile as he prepared to mount a campaign for U.S. Senate.

"Josh Hawley's flagrant abuse of his taxpayer funded office for his own political gain deserves immediate investigation," said Brad Woodhouse, ADLF president, in a statement. "We're heartened to see Secretary of State Ashcroft give this racket further scrutiny."

Hawley's office said they welcomed the investigation.

"We are delighted to cooperate with the Secretary of State's Office and put these ridiculous allegations to bed once and for all," said Mary Compton, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Attorney General's office. "These allegations are totally meritless and nothing more than a partisan attempt to slander the work of the Attorney General's Office. As we have said before, no taxpayer resources were ever expended for campaign purposes. And no government employees ever participated in campaign or political activities."

Ashcroft and Hawley are both Republicans.

The complaint from ALDF, a Democratic group, was based largely on reporting by The Kansas City Star, which in an Oct. 31 article detailed how political consultants steered the attorney general's office under Hawley's watch. The Star obtained emails, text messages and other records showing that Timmy Teepell and Gail Gitcho, political consultants from Louisiana and Massachusetts, exerted influence in the attorney general's office to the point that some staff became uncertain about the chain of command in the office.

The article also detailed how Hawley, with the help of his consultants, sought to raise his political profile, a stark contrast to his message during his 2016 campaign for attorney general that he was not another ladder-climbing politician continually trying to reach higher office.

"This constitutes a misuse of public funds," the American Democracy Legal Fund's complaint says.

Hawley defeated Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill on Nov. 6

The Star has obtained a copy of a letter sent by Ashcroft's office to the American Democracy Legal Fund, confirming the investigation and requesting copies of any documents or any first-hand knowledge the organization had to support its complaint against Hawley.

Ashcroft's office has authority to investigate election-related offenses but lacks subpoena power, according to an email that Ashcroft's office sent to The Star last month.

(McClatchy's Bryan Lowry contributed to this report.)

(c)2018 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)