Government & Politics

Use of Greitens’ campaign cash for education leader pick questioned

In this Sept. 22, 2017 file photo, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens speaks at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island, Mich.
In this Sept. 22, 2017 file photo, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens speaks at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island, Mich. AP

Questions are being raised about Gov. Eric Greitens’ use of campaign funds to bring his pick to be the state’s next school commissioner to Missouri this summer.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Missouri visit was part of an ill-fated effort to replace Margie Vandeven as the state’s education commissioner with charter school advocate Kenneth Zeff of Georgia.

Greitens’ campaign adviser Austin Chambers told the Post-Dispatch that Greitens campaign was abiding by state law when it spent $1,500 on Zeff’s travel from Atlanta, Ga., to Missouri in early August. Costs included airfare, car rental and hotel rooms in Columbia.

University of Missouri Law School Professor Richard Reuben described the spending as “questionable,” but state law says specifically that a candidate can use campaign funds for “any ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with the duties of a holder of elective office.”

Democrats were quick to pounce on the report, with House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty saying the governor’s actions were “part of his underhanded scheme to depose the current state education commissioner and install his own handpicked choice.”

“Missourians should be disturbed and concerned by professional politician Eric Greitens’ bumbling attempt to orchestrate a coup at the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education,” said McCann Beatty, a Kansas City Democrat.

Zeff was purportedly a potential candidate to replace Vandeven, whom Greitens sought to oust last month. That effort flopped, however, after a two people Greitens appointed to the state board of education refused to support removing Vandeven, leaving him without the votes he needed.

Greitens pledged during the campaign to support so-called “school choice” education reforms, most notably charter school expansion and education savings accounts. During his 2016 campaign, he accepted more than $370,000 from some of the top proponents of school-choice ballot measures and legislation in the country — including Betsy DeVos, the U.S. education secretary.

Zeff was previously chief operations officer for a charter school management organization serving students in Los Angeles and New York.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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