Government & Politics

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens jumps to the defense of dark money

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens defended his reliance on so-called dark money Monday during an interview with a St. Louis radio station.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens defended his reliance on so-called dark money Monday during an interview with a St. Louis radio station.

As his nonprofit organization continues to draw criticism from both Republicans and Democrats, Gov. Eric Greitens is speaking out in defense of keeping secret his donors’ identities, comparing it to the right to cast a secret ballot.

Greitens, a first-term Republican governor, was asked about the nonprofit founded by his political advisers during an interview Monday with conservative St. Louis talk show host Mark Reardon. The nonprofit, called A New Missouri Inc., has drawn the ire of state lawmakers for its repeated attacks on Republican senators, including giving out the private cellphone number of Sen. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph.

Because Greitens’ advisers set up A New Missouri Inc. as a nonprofit, it doesn’t have to abide by contribution limits and isn’t required to disclose where it gets its money.

Lawmakers pushed during the session to force so-called dark money groups like A New Missouri to disclose their donors under certain circumstances. Proponents argued big-money donors shouldn’t be able to stay anonymous while trying to sway public policy or an election. Secret donors can also lead to corruption, proponents argue, while transparency allows the public to see who is trying to influence elected officials through campaign contributions.

Greitens on Monday accused “the liberal media and some career politicians” of trying to mandate disclosure in order 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. “You need to turn over your home address and your contact information, so that the government can turn around and publish that. We believe in the First Amendment. We’ve always supported people’s right to do this. When people go in and they vote, nobody calls that dark voting.”

The disclosure system Greitens decried Monday is exactly the way donations to political action committees and candidate committees in Missouri are made public. If someone gives to a candidate, the contribution is disclosed by the campaign along with the name and address of the person or group making the donation.

The governor’s comparison of dark money contributions to casting an anonymous ballot drew immediate pushback.

Chuck Hatfield, a longtime Jefferson City attorney and former adviser to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, noted on Twitter that when someone casts an anonymous ballot, the candidate receiving the vote doesn’t know. The same can’t be said of campaign contributions, where the person who gets the money knows where it came from even if the source is hidden from the public.

“The thing about secret voting is we all only get one vote each,” Hatfield said.

Greitens’ Monday comments contradict what he said last year during his campaign for governor.

“What I’ve found is that the most important thing is transparency around the money,” Greitens told St. Louis Public Radio last year. He later added: “I’ve been very proud to tell people, ‘I’m stepping forward and you can see every single one of our donors, because we are proud of our donors and we are proud of the campaign we are running.’ 

Sen. Jason Holsman, a Kansas City Democrat, pounded Greitens for the apparent change of heart on campaign finance transparency. He questioned whether the governor was advocating for abolition of all campaign disclosure laws, and demanded he clarify his position.

“Perhaps the governor is no longer proud of his donors and wishes them to remain in the dark,” Holsman said. “Either way, his reversal of position on transparency is disappointing.”

A New Missouri Inc. was founded in February by Greitens’ campaign treasurer and his attorney. It’s run by Austin Chambers, the governor’s senior adviser, and housed in a building owned by one of the governor’s biggest donors.

Over the weekend, A New Missouri launched robocalls featuring the governor’s voice attacking GOP Sen. Doug Libla of Poplar Bluff over his opposition to utility legislation pushed by Greitens aimed at luring a steel mill to southeast Missouri.

A New Missouri also paid for buses to transport people to the Capitol on Tuesday for a rally in support of the governor’s proposal. Greitens called the General Assembly back into special session this week to debate the utility bill.

Despite his many connections to the nonprofit, Greitens has insisted he has no day-to-day role with A New Missouri.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock