Gov. Eric Greitens’ campaign explored methods to conceal the identity of contributors from its early stages, according to testimony from a former campaign staffer.
Michael Hafner, a longtime GOP consultant who worked on Greitens’ campaign early on, told lawmakers that the governor directed him to “have conversations with donors who intended to raise significant amounts of money and … conceal the identity of those donors.”
Hafner said that at the governor’s urging, he spoke with Monu Joseph, a California-based venture capitalist who wanted to discuss how to bundle donations and conceal the identity of donors by funneling them through LLCs, according to a transcript of Hafner’s March testimony to a special House committee.
During the campaign, Greitens touted his commitment to transparency and blasted candidates who relied on support from political action committees to obscure their financial backers.
“The most important thing is that there’s transparency around the money,” Greitens said in a 2016 interview with St. Louis Public Radio.
“I’ve been very proud to tell people we’re stepping forward and that you can see every single one of our donors because we’re proud of our donors and we’re proud of the campaign that we’re running.”
Hafner's testimony was released Wednesday along with a House investigative report detailing the governor’s use of a charity donor list to raise money for his successful 2016 bid for governor.
Greitens' political and legal teams did not immediately comment on Hafner's specific claims about concealing donors, but in a statement criticizing the overall report the governor's legal team referred to the fact that Hafner went on to work for one of Greitens’ GOP rivals, John Brunner.
"The witnesses were employees of or consultants to the campaign. Two of them were replaced long before election day. One of them worked for one of the Governor’s opponents in the campaign," said Catherine Hanaway, the attorney for Greitens' campaign. She also sought the GOP nomination for governor before losing to Greitens.
A significant portion of Hafner’s testimony revolves around his conversations with Joseph in early 2015.
One of the donors Joseph mentioned was a man named Alex Rogers, Hafner testified.
“I never had any direct conversations with him, but I was led to believe that he lived overseas. He was intending to raise a lot of money and wanted to know how to do it,” Hafner told the committee.
Hafner told the committee that he and Joseph specifically discussed raising money from foreign nationals, which would violate a federal law that prohibits campaigns from knowingly accepted money from foreign nationals.
Hafner said that he did not know Rogers’ nationality for sure, but thought he was British and living in Hong Kong.
However, based on Rogers’ LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, he appears to have grown up in Tennessee before spending several years living in London and then Hong Kong. It’s an important distinction because U.S. citizens who live overseas face no prohibition on political giving.
Rogers, who appears to reside now in Massachusetts, did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday.
Hafner pointed to the governor’s time as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University as being the connection between Greitens and both Joseph and Rogers.
“The only one to my knowledge that made contributions directly to Greitens for Missouri was the gentleman Monu Joseph,” Hafner said. “Certainly there was much discussion about Alex and then some other potential donors to the campaign in conversations I had with Monu. Monu mentioned that they had a lot of buddies from Oxford that would probably contribute, and I don’t know what happened after I left with those particular donors.”
Hafner testified that he did not know the nationalities of the potential donors with Oxford ties, but he confirmed that he thought the campaign carried out a strategy of concealing donors.
“There’s a number of reasons for it,” Hafner testified. “I think from a candidate’s perspective it’s they don’t want to be seen as being purchased by a particular donor if they’re giving mass amounts of money. … They don’t want to be seen as influencing a certain candidate. They might have business before the state. There might be a legitimate conflict.”
Brendan Fischer, an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center, said that in recent elections his group has “certainly seen LLCs used to disguise the true source of funding.”
He said that the use of LLCs is problematic because it could enable campaigns to disguise illegal donations, such as contributions from foreign nationals, or to hide donations from contractors seeking favors from the government.
"The reason that contributors to a candidate are publicly disclosed is likely obvious. The public has a right to know who is giving money to our public officials ... to learn whether an elected official is beholden to their donors," Fischer said. "So if candidates and donors are cooking up ways to avoid disclosure, that’s a problem. That’s a recipe for corruption."
Lawmakers asked Hafner about a campaign document that showed Greitens would be traveling to Hong Kong during the exploratory phase of his campaign. Hafner testified that he thought Greitens intended to meet with Rogers during that trip.
The committee released a heavily redacted version of the document that shows that Greitens planned to to meet in Hong Kong with a person who had donated to his charity, The Mission Continues.
The person, whose name is redacted, pledged to donate $50,000 to the campaign, according to a note attributed to EG.
The document, which includes a call sheet of charity donors, recommends asking Joseph for $15,000 during the campaign’s exploratory phase and notes that he has a connection U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who has faced scrutiny because of his ties to Russia.
Another exhibit released by the House committee shows that Greitens had a meeting scheduled with Rohrabacher at Joseph’s house in 2014.
Joseph did not immediately respond to an email Wednesday.
Joseph’s relationship with Greitens also came up during Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s investigation into the governor’s charity.
Krystal Proctor, an administrative assistant for Greitens at The Mission Continues and at his company the Greitens Group, said in testimony that was shared with the House committee that Greitens and Joseph were longtime friends.
"They met in school or something or at some sort of like leadership academy or something along those lines," Proctor testified to lawyers with the Missouri attorney general’s office. "I can't remember exactly where they met. But they were like longtime friends."
Proctor testified that Joseph likely started helping Greitens set up meetings with potential political supporters as early as late 2013.
"Because Monu would be someone if Eric was traveling, who might help set up different meetings with potential supporters," Proctor said. "And he would also come into St. Louis quite often during the campaign to sort of help out, be around."