How much money corporations and lobbyists donated to fund Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ inauguration may never be known.
But House Democrats hope to avoid that situation in the future by reviving a 15-year-old bill originally sponsored by one of Greitens’ top advisers.
State Rep. Mark Ellebracht, a Liberty Democrat, on Wednesday filed legislation that would require future governors to publicly disclose donations for gubernatorial inauguration activities. The legislation is based on a bill sponsored in 2002 by then-state Sen. Sarah Steelman, whom Greitens appointed to serve as commissioner of the Missouri Office of Administration.
“Corporations didn’t give the governor money just to be nice. They expect something in return,” Ellebracht said. “Missourians are entitled to know exactly who paid for the governor’s party and how much money they kicked in. Until then, it’s hard to take this governor’s anti-corruption talk very seriously.”
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Neither Greitens nor Steelman responded to a request for comment.
To raise money for his inauguration, Greitens formed a nonprofit to seek out donors. Nonprofits aren’t required to disclose their donors and aren’t subject to recently enacted campaign donation limits. Greitens has repeatedly refused to say how much was raised, how much was spent, how much each donor chipped in or whether he’ll ever make any of that information public.
Repeated requests for details of the inaugural fundraising by The Star have been rebuffed by the governor’s office. A request filed under the state’s open records law also was denied.
So far, the only thing Greitens’ office has been willing to share is a list of “benefactors” he says helped finance the inaugural festivities. On the list are some of the state’s largest companies and high-profile Jefferson City lobbyists, most of whom have business before the legislature that Greitens may one day have to either sign or veto.
Among the companies that donated to Greitens’ inauguration were Anheuser-Busch, Boeing, Centene, Enterprise, Express Scripts, Kansas City Power & Light, Kansas City Southern, Monsanto, Pfizer, Uber and Wal-Mart.
Greitens’ refusal to disclose the details of his inauguration is part of a pattern with the new governor of hiding the source of major financial contributions.
His 2016 campaign benefited from $6 million in so-called dark money, cash funneled through nonprofits to hide its origin. He has also repeatedly refused to release his tax returns, which critics say could help shed light on any possible conflicts of interest stemming from his five-figure speaking fees on the corporate lecture circuit.
Greitens’ actions are also a break from tradition in Missouri.
Former Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, used a nonprofit to raise funds for his inauguration but released the names of every donor and a budget of expenses by category. Former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, used his campaign committee to raise inaugural funds, and thus was mandated to disclose all financial information to the Missouri Ethics Commission.
Nixon and Blunt spent less than $250,000 each on their inaugural festivities. Greitens’ inauguration appeared to be more elaborate, including a performance by country music star Sara Evans.
Jean Maneke, a Kansas City attorney who specializes in Sunshine Law matters for the Missouri Press Association, said Greitens’ actions stand in contrast to his rhetoric during the campaign and since taking office.
The governor has repeatedly demanded that lawmakers ban lobbyist gifts to elected officials, saying that doing so would be an “important step in cleaning up Jefferson City.”
Maneke said there’s not much difference between elected officials accepting lobbyist meals paid for with their corporate clients’ money and corporations donating to pay for the governor’s inaugural events.
“I see no reason,” she said, “for there to be an emphasis on doing away with one while continuing to permit the other.”
Steelman’s 2002 legislation didn’t get much traction. But a similar bill filed in the Missouri House nearly became law in 2003, dying on the legislative session’s final day when differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill couldn’t be ironed out.
At the time, Steelman told the Associated Press, “the public has the right to know who is contributing to their public officials. It could be considered as trying to influence or gain access by contributing.”
Democrats note that eight Republican state senators, including Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, were serving the House in 2003 and voted for the disclosure bill.
“I’m honestly not trying to play gotcha with the governor,” Ellebracht said. “This is about the citizens’ right to know who is trying to influence their governor.”