A senior adviser to Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens responded to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s criticism of the governor’s reliance on dark money Wednesday by pointing out the Democrat has also received hefty support from groups with anonymous donors.
McCaskill has repeatedly called for stricter disclosure rules on political spending during town halls and in conversations with reporters.
The former Jackson County prosecutor also has frequently taken swipes at Greitens, a Republican who has faced scrutiny for his reliance on dark money during his first year as governor. Greitens refused to disclose how much donors gave to his inauguration and has faced questions about the tactics of his nonprofit, A New Missouri Inc., which has launched attacks on lawmakers from the governor’s own party.
“It is a headscratcher that it is so hard to give up lobbyist gifts and dark money in Jeff City,” McCaskill told reporters last week, noting that Greitens’ promise to pass a ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers fell short during the state’s legislative session.
Austin Chambers, Greitens’ senior adviser, called McCasksill “as hypocritical as they come” in a phone call.
McCaskill, who is up for re-election in 2018, told town hall attendees earlier this year to ignore ads paid for by dark money groups, which do not disclose their donors. However, McCaskill has benefited from the support of such groups.
Majority Forward, a group with ties to U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, spent $500,000 on radio ads in support of McCaskill in April.
The same group announced Wednesday that it would be launching television ads this week in support of McCaskill and other Democrats in partnership with Vote Vets, a group that advocates on veterans’ issues and has primarily supported Democratic candidates in recent elections. The ad buy, which is spread over seven states, totals $3.5 million, according to a release from Majority Forward.
Chambers, who is paid through Greitens’ campaign and nonprofit but is also a regular fixture in the governor’s capital office, pointed to the spending Wednesday on Twitter after McCaskill attacked the governor a day earlier.
“She wants to attack somebody on so-called dark money, but when she benefits it’s fine,” he said in a phone call. “Is she going to say that they need to turn over all of their donors to a government database … or does she just want the governor to do that?”
This is the first time that anyone from Greitens’ team has responded directly to McCaskill’s criticism. It comes a day after McCaskill chastised the governor on Twitter.
“Gov Greitens said he didn’t want to give names of donors of his dark $ account to the govt. No Gov, you would be giving it to the PEOPLE,” McCaskill tweeted Tuesday.
John LaBombard, a spokesman for McCaskill, said in a phone call that the senator’s tweet was a reaction to “the governor comparing voting rights to dark money groups, which is a comparison Missourians don’t buy.”
In a follow-up email, LaBombard said that McCaskill “thinks dark money groups should disclose their donors, regardless of party affiliation. Until the legislation she's championed to require disclosure passes, she'd love to see these groups do the right thing and embrace transparency. And in the meantime she's told Missourians to ignore ads that aren't paid for by the candidates themselves and will continue doing so.”
Greitens defended the use of anonymous donations earlier this week, accusing “the liberal media and some career politicians” of trying to intimidate donors. “The people who believe in voter intimidation believe that the minute you make a political donation, that you immediately need to turn all your information over to the government,” Greitens said.
Greitens’ defense of dark money this week stands in stark contrast to his rhetoric during his campaign for governor. During a January 2016 interview with St. Louis Public Radio, he denounced the use of anonymous contributions, saying “the most important thing is transparency around the money.”
McCaskill has also attacked Greitens for not including the creation of a prescription drug monitoring program as an item for the agenda of the special session he has called.
Chambers said that the governor supports the creation of such a program and has not ruled out calling multiple special sessions.
The Star’s Jason Hancock contributed to this report.