Facing criticism over a series of attack ads that disclosed the private cellphone number of a Republican lawmaker, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on Monday distanced himself from the nonprofit responsible for the ads.
A New Missouri Inc. was founded in February by Greitens’ campaign treasurer, Jeff Stuerman. It is housed in a building owned by one of Greitens’ biggest donors and is run by the governor’s senior adviser, Austin Chambers.
Among those Chambers has said are working out of the nonprofit’s office is Meredith Gibbons, the Greitens campaign’s finance director, and Catherine Chestnut, the governor’s sister-in-law.
On Friday, the nonprofit launched a series of ads attacking state Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican and frequent critic of the governor’s reliance on “dark money” — campaign contributions routed through nonprofits to hide their original source. Greitens benefited from $6 million in dark money spending during last year’s campaign, and he used a nonprofit to conceal how much corporations and lobbyists spent bankrolling his inaugural.
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Because A New Missouri Inc. is a nonprofit, it is not subject to Missouri’s campaign contribution limits and is not required to disclose where it is getting its money.
In a series of radio ads, digital ads and robocalls, the group accused Schaaf of “siding with liberals in the Senate against conservatives.” Schaaf is among a group of Republicans who have used the filibuster to slow down the Senate this session, with Schaaf regularly using his time to complain about the lack of progress on ethics reform.
The ads urged people to call Schaaf, and then gave out his private cellphone number. Schaaf said he was inundated with calls from across the country, filling up his voice mail. After Schaaf revealed that, Chambers encouraged supporters to text Schaaf instead of calling.
Asked about the rift on Monday after an event in St. Charles, Greitens denied responsibility for the ads.
“The organization that you’re referring to is one that I have no day-to-day responsibilities with,” he said. “It’s an organization that’s separate from the governor’s office.”
In an email to The Star, Chambers reiterated that the governor “is not a part of the day-to-day operation of A New Missouri, and he is not involved in any of the advertising.”
“As he made clear today, he is supportive of organizations who advocate for and promote his conservative agenda,” said Chambers, who is not a member of the governor’s official staff and thus does not receive a taxpayer-funded salary. Chambers has, however, been a regular fixture in the governor’s Capitol office this year.
Schaaf responded to the attacks in a speech on the Senate floor Monday evening. He acknowledged that one of the criticisms being lobbed at him by the governor’s nonprofit and others — that he rents a room from a lobbyist when he’s in Jefferson City — feeds into the appearance of corruption. Thus, he said, he will no longer rent that room and will instead stay in a hotel.
He called on Greitens, who ran a campaign largely based on rooting out corruption in state government, to live up to that rhetoric and stop relying on dark money by disbanding A New Missouri Inc., which he said was founded “specifically for the purpose of hiding his donors.”
“Governor, don’t ignore the log in your eye when you see the speck in mine,” he said. “I’m removing the speck. Now you remove the log.”
Schaaf said Missouri politics “has a real problem with corruption. But it is a problem of corrupt incentives and corrupt norms, not corrupt hearts.”
He added Tuesday morning that he doesn’t believe that the nonprofit is acting without coordination with the governor. He declared A New Missouri “public enemy No. 1.” He vowed to block every bill except the state’s budget until the Senate passes legislation requiring dark money groups like A New Missouri to disclose donors.
Several Republican senators have joined Schaaf in criticizing Greitens’ use of dark money. Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican, has promised to push for mandatory disclosure. Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican, demanded the governor’s nonprofit stop attacking GOP senators.
And Sen. Gary Romine, a Farmington Republican, said his constituents have expressed concern about the governor’s secret fundraising.
“That’s the one they’re most concerned about,” he said. “Where are those dollars coming from, how are they being spent?”
One of the bills Greitens was most upset about Schaaf delaying would create a “Blue Alert” system to assist law enforcement trying to apprehend suspects who have harmed police officers. The Senate set the bill aside once again Monday night when the Senate adjourned so a group of Republican lawmakers could attend a scheduled dinner at the governor’s mansion.