‘Dark money’ in Missouri
Gov. Eric Greitens’ nonprofit group is preparing to launch TV ads across the state focused on taxes and the state budget.
According to publicly available records, the nonprofit A New Missouri Inc. is spending nearly $450,000 on TV ads on broadcast channels and another $65,000 on the cable channels Fox News and Hallmark. The ads will run Thursday through July 26.
“It is a statewide television buy — the five major markets including Kansas City — advocating that the governor continues to balance the budget without raising taxes,” said Austin Chambers said, the governor’s senior adviser.
Greitens, a Republican, recently announced he was withholding $251 million in spending to balance Missouri’s $27 billion budget. He also vetoed a bill aimed at preventing cuts to in-home and nursing home care for 8,000 disabled or elderly Missourians.
He said at the time that he had to choose between raising taxes or cutting spending, and “I will not raise your taxes.”
Only the legislature can vote to raise taxes, and any substantial increase must be placed on the ballot and approved by voters. The last time the legislature placed a tax hike on the ballot was 2014.
The statewide TV ad buy is the latest foray into Missouri politics by the governor’s controversial nonprofit.
A New Missouri Inc. was founded in February by the governor’s political team. It’s housed in a Jefferson City building that was purchased by one of Missouri’s most prolific campaign donors shortly before the nonprofit was founded.
Because it’s a nonprofit, A New Missouri is not required to disclose its donors, a fact that has drawn the ire of a bipartisan group of legislators who argue the governor’s reliance on secret campaign contributions opens the door for corruption.
In one of its first acts, A New Missouri ran a series of ads publicizing the private cellphone number of a Republican lawmaker who had been critical of the governor. A few weeks later it launched ads attacking another Republican lawmaker who had voiced opposition to legislation backed by Greitens.
A New Missouri also paid for travel, placards, food and beverages for the governor’s supporters who rallied at a campaign-style event at the Capitol in May. Several lawmakers said the group’s activities amount to lobbying, and thus, it should be required to abide by lobbying regulations that mandate registering with the Missouri Ethics Commission and publicly disclosing expenditures.
Despite his many connections to the nonprofit, Greitens has insisted he has no day-to-day role with A New Missouri.
Chambers, the governor’s former campaign manager and a regular fixture in Greitens’ Capitol office, is the public face of A New Missouri. Greitens’ sister-in-law is listed as the group’s executive director, and the organization was founded by the governor’s campaign treasurer and attorney.
Greitens once decried the use of so-called “dark money.” He told St. Louis Public Radio in January 2016 that “the most important thing is transparency around the money.” But in May, he jumped to the defense of anonymous campaign contributions, saying mandating disclosure would lead to donor intimidation.
“We believe in the First Amendment,” he said at the time. “We’ve always supported people’s right to do this. When people go in and they vote, nobody calls that dark voting.”