A former Eric Greitens campaign staffer at the center of questions surrounding the campaign’s use of a charity’s donor list is talking to the St. Louis prosecutor’s office as part of its criminal investigation of the governor.
The news suggests that the inquiry has broadened to include activities by Greitens' campaign.
Michael Hafner is a longtime Republican consultant who worked for the governor’s campaign when it first began raising money by using the donor list of The Mission Continues, a veterans charity Greitens founded in 2007.
Hafner eventually left the campaign to work for one of Greitens’ rivals in the GOP primary. He declined comment when contacted by The Star. But he is talking to Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s office, which is leading the criminal investigation of the governor.
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The Star reached out to Gardner's office, which declined to comment.
Later Thursday, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced that he would be opening an investigation into The Mission Continues, citing his office's responsibilities under the consumer protection and charitable registration and reporting law.
Issues surrounding the Greitens campaign’s use of the charity’s donor list have dogged the governor since shortly before the 2016 election.
Greitens initially publicly denied that his campaign ever possessed the donor list. After a complaint was filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission, Greitens and his attorney signed a consent decree last year attesting that the list was given to his campaign in March 2015 as an in-kind donation from Daniel Laub, his campaign manager.
Yet The Mission Continues has been adamant that it did not — and would not — give Greitens’ campaign or any campaign its donor list. Doing so could violate federal law and put the charity’s tax-exempt status at risk. The charity has been equally unwavering in saying that it doesn’t even know who Daniel Laub is.
Laura L'Esperance, a spokeswoman for The Mission Continues, told The Star that Laub “is not, nor has he ever been, an employee of The Mission Continues. We did not provide nor authorize him to access the list in question.”
Further complicating the issue was a report Tuesday by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that said emails the paper obtained show Greitens’ former assistant sent The Mission Continues donor list to Laub and Hafner two months earlier than what the governor said in his settlement with the ethics commission.
The revelations could raise new legal pitfalls for Greitens at a time when he’s already fending off a felony invasion of privacy charge and talk of impeachment in the Missouri House.
“If someone took the list against the charity policy and sent it to the campaign, that’s theft,” said Bruce Hopkins, a Kansas City-based attorney who practices nonprofit law and is a professor at the University of Kansas School of Law.
Neither Greitens’ campaign nor the former staffers responded to requests for comment this week by The Star.
Greitens stepped down as CEO of the charity in July 2014, before the list was sent to his campaign. He was still a member of the charity’s board of directors, but neither he nor his assistant was employed by The Mission Continues when the list was sent to the campaign.
L'Esperance said the charity makes it clear that no employee, not even the CEO, would have been permitted to take the donor list with them after ending their employment with The Mission Continues.
“We protect our donors’ information and keep it private,” she said. “Everyone on our team is well aware that we don’t share, sell or rent our donor list to any external parties. We don’t do that. It’s prohibited. Donors’ personal information is considered strictly confidential.”
L'Esperance said Thursday that The Mission Continues has not been contacted by law enforcement or investigators.
Lloyd Mayer, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, said that if someone with access to the donor list at the charity knowingly shared it with the campaign without the charity's permission, “that would usually constitute the crime of embezzlement, because that person knowingly converted the charity's property to their personal use by transferring it to the campaign.”
If it were Greitens, Mayer said he could argue that it was his personal efforts that created the list, “and so he thought that he, not the charity, owned the list, and so his taking of it was authorized."
“Even if he was incorrect on this point,” Mayer continued, “that belief would likely defend against him any criminal liability.”
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that Greitens used a Mission Continues email address to arrange political meetings as he prepared to launch his bid for governor.
The emails indicate the meetings were held at the Jefferson City offices of two Republican consulting firms less than a month before Greitens officially created a candidate exploratory committee. Participants at the meetings told the AP the topic of discussion was Greitens’ impending candidacy.
“It is not appropriate to use 501(c)(3) charitable assets — charitable email addresses, the charitable name — to promote a candidacy for public office,” David L. Thompson, an attorney who is vice president of public policy at the Washington-based National Council of Nonprofits, told the Associated Press.
New York Times reporter Ben Casselman tweeted Tuesday that after he donated to The Mission Continues in 2012, he began getting campaign-related emails from Greitens. His experience is similar to that of another source that provided The Star emails showing he’d signed up for email updates from The Mission Continues in 2010, then unexpectedly began getting fund-raising emails from the Greitens campaign in 2015.
“Based on preliminary information, we do not believe that the campaign used an email list belonging to The Mission Continues,” Michael Adams, a Washington, D.C., attorney who represents Greitens’ campaign, told The Star by email.
In some respects, the saga surrounding the donor list dates to the summer of 2012.
According to "Charlie Mike," a book written by Joe Klein about Greitens and his work with The Mission Continues, that was when Greitens asked to take a leave of absence from the charity to explore the idea of a campaign for governor. Klein said the charity's board denied the request.
In early 2013, Klein wrote, Greitens once again asked to take a leave of absence, for three months beginning January 2014, after which he planned to return as a symbolic CEO while transferring responsibilities to a successor. The point of the leave of absence, Klein wrote, was for Greitens to decide what he was going to do next, “which everyone assumed would be a career in politics.”
This time the board agreed.
On May 6, 2014, a staffer for the Mission Continues responsible for donor records created an Excel spreadsheet titled “All donors 1K total and up — as of 5-7-14.”
The list included more than 500 names, along with email addresses and phone numbers, for individuals who had given at least $1,000 to the charity. Those included on the list had combined to give the charity roughly $4.7 million in contributions.
The list also included names and contact information for foundations that gave an additional $4 million and corporations that gave more than $20 million.
Greitens resigned as CEO of The Mission Continues on July 4, 2014 — two months after the Excel spreadsheet was created. He filed paperwork with the state ethics commission to form an exploratory committee for a run for governor in February 2015.
Greitens didn’t step down from The Mission Continues' board until Aug. 28, 2015. He filed paperwork with the ethics commission to officially become a candidate for governor on Oct. 1, 2015.
The Associated Press broke the news in October 2016 that the Greitens campaign was using The Mission Continues’ donor list to raise money.
Donors who had previously given significant amounts to The Mission Continues gave Greitens nearly $2 million. Of the more than $525,000 Greitens raised during an initial two-month period of his campaign in early 2015, the AP found 85 percent came from donors who previously gave to The Mission Continues.
Greitens publicly denied using the charity’s donor database for his campaign, telling the AP at the time: “No, we were not working off of a Mission Continues donor list.”
It was not until April 29, 2017, that Greitens finally admitted that his campaign had the donor list. As part of a consent order stemming from a complaint filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission, Greitens agreed to amend his March 2015 disclosure forms to reflect the list as a $600 in-kind contribution from Laub.
Greitens’ attorney told The Star the $600 value placed on the list was calculated with the assistance of an independent professional list broker.
The campaign also was required to pay a $100 fine.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Greitens campaign actually received the donor list in a Jan. 6, 2015, email from Krystal Taylor, who at the time was working for the Greitens Group, his private company.
Taylor previously worked for Greitens at The Mission Continues, at the time when the Excel spreadsheet of donors was created.