Missouri lawmakers asked a judge Wednesday to force Gov. Eric Greitens' campaign and political nonprofit to turn over documents they believe could demonstrate efforts to illegally circumvent the state's campaign disclosure laws.
Mark Kempton, a former Pettis County prosecutor hired to serve as special counsel for a House committee investigating allegations of criminal wrongdoing by the governor, argued in Cole County Circuit Court that previously gathered evidence points to possible campaign finance violations by the governor's network.
The House committee is considering whether to recommend impeachment, and last week it issued an expansive subpoena that included a request for all financial records from an Illinois bank relating to A New Missouri Inc., a nonprofit founded by Greitens' political team in early 2017 to advocate for the governor's agenda.
On Wednesday, Kempton told the Cole County judge that because the special session to consider impeachment must be complete by June 17, the House has decided to narrow its request and only ask the court to enforce subpoenas demanding communications between A New Missouri and the governor’s campaign, as well as information about expenditures by A New Missouri.
Because A New Missouri is a nonprofit, it does not have to disclose its donors and is not subject to state campaign donation limits.
"We’re not asking for donor identification or bank records or tax records," Kempton said.
Catherine Hanaway, a former Missouri House speaker who is representing A New Missouri and the governor's campaign, had argued that releasing the identities of donors would violate their privacy and their First Amendment rights. On Wednesday, she continued to push back against complying with the subpoenas, saying the House has not demonstrated any evidence of wrongdoing against A New Missouri.
"You’re being asked to invade the confidentially and privacy of donors to A New Missouri," Hanaway said to Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem. "Your decision will set the boundaries into how invasive the House can be and how disruptive the House can be to individuals who are not Eric Greitens.”
Beetem did not issue a ruling Wednesday.
In laying out his case for why the subpoenas should be enforced, Kempton pointed to testimony of a former Greitens campaign staff member, Michael Hafner, who told lawmakers that in late 2014 and early 2015, the governor's campaign was discussing a strategy to conceal the identity of its donors.
Kempton also noted accusations that Greitens' campaign used shell companies to funnel money into its coffers in order to hide the original source of the money. It's an accusation that has dogged Greitens throughout his short political career. During the 2016 campaign, his campaign benefited from $6 million worth of "dark money" contributions that were routed through nonprofits and into federal political action committees, hiding where the money actually came from.
More recently, A New Missouri has been accused of being a conduit for money to fight off a union-backed effort to repeal Missouri's right-to-work law. The nonprofit donated $1.2 million to a PAC that failed at its task of putting a pro-right-to-work initiative petition on the ballot this year.
Most of the PAC's money went to political allies of the governor.
“All these factors demonstrate, and demand, the (House) committee follow up on this area of inquiry, on the relationship that exists between A New Missouri and Greitens for Missouri, and get whether there have been any campaign finance violations," Kempton said.
Hanaway said the subpoenas were simply a "fishing expedition." Additionally, the House committee is supposed to be investigating Greitens, she said, not groups that support him.
The campaign and A New Missouri have overlapping staff, and they share an office in downtown Jefferson City in a building purchased by one of Greitens' top donors. His top campaign aides may be running the nonprofit, but Hanaway said Greitens has no formal role and doesn't control its actions.
“Eric Greitens," she said, "is not A New Missouri.”