A former staffer of John Brunner’s campaign for Missouri governor is involved with a new super political action committee that is attempting to undermine the conservative credentials of rival Republican Eric Greitens.
The committee set up a website — ericgrietens.com — in recent days that opens with a picture of the candidate and the headline, “Eric Greitens is not a Conservative.”
Underneath that headline are three more:
“NOT a Conservative.
Never miss a local story.
Not Then. Not Now. Not Ever.
Learn the Truth about Eric Greitens.”
The site is an attempt to undermine Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, with conservative voters who show up in big numbers for party primaries and often determine who the GOP nominee is. The committee has also issued ads on search sites that carry the same anti-Greitens theme.
The website is also a sly trick. Greitens spells his name with the “e” before the “i.” The website flips that in a bid to attract the attention of voters who may not know how to spell it.
“It’s a shame they’re going negative this early,” said Greitens spokesman Austin Chambers. “John (Brunner) and Eric (Greitens) have met multiple times, and each of those times they had good conversations. They talked that if they did run, it was important that they ran a clean campaign.
“It’s interesting to see that they’ve decided to go down this route this early and go this negative."
Brunner’s campaign said the former employee connected to the site, Adam McLain, was let go from the campaign in September for performance issues and because he wasn’t willing to move to Missouri. Campaign records show he was paid nearly $13,000 for his work over several months, including a $3,515 payment on Sept. 30, the final day of the third quarter.
“We’re not a part of this,” Brunner spokesman Mike Hafner said.
Sept. 30 was the cut-off date for public information on donations to the campaign and payments from it so far this year. The next report isn’t due until January.
Brunner has vowed not to engaged in negative campaigning.
“As a candidate, I make the following pledge: I will not personally participate, nor will I condone any person employed by my campaign to engage in a campaign of personal destruction," Brunner said in a statement in April when he announced an exploratory campaign for governor. “I challenge all candidates for governor to join with me and take the high road.”
Three other candidates — former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, state Sen. Bob Dixon and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder — are also competing in the GOP primary.
The bogus Greitens website indicates that it is paid for by a group called Patriots for America. The website states that the group is “not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.” McLain signed a Nov. 5 statement of organization filed with the Federal Election Committee for the group and listed himself as treasurer.
“This committee intends to make independent expenditures....” the letter reads.
McLain, who listed a home address in Poquoson, Virginia, was reached late Friday. Asked when he left Brunner’s campaign, he denied comment.
“I don’t mean to be short or rude, don’t take it that way,” he said. “But I have no comment.”
The name of Boston attorney Vincent DeVito also appears on the statement of organization. On his website, he said he was chief legal counsel for Scott Brown’s 2014 campaign for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire and Charlie Baker’s 2014 campaign for Massachusetts governor. Brunner’s chief of staff, Paul Holzer of Boston, worked on Baker’s campaign. Brunner senior adviser Beth Myers of Boston worked on Brown’s campaign.
Asked if he condemned the anti-Greitens efforts, Hafner said, “The official answer is we can’t speak for this other group.
”If they were saying something that is completely baseless or untrue, then I think absolutely we would (condemn it),’ he added. “If they were participating in a campaign of personal destruction against anybody, we would come out and completely condemn that right away. There’s no question about that.”
There’s also no question that negative overtones are creeping into a GOP primary race more than eight months before primary election day.