‘Dark money’ in Missouri
Gov. Eric Greitens' dark-money nonprofit may still be forced to turn over documents lawmakers believe might demonstrate efforts to illegally circumvent the state's campaign disclosure laws.
On Tuesday, a Cole County judge ordered Greitens' nonprofit — A New Missouri Inc. — to abide by a subpoena issued by the Missouri House and turn over communications and documents showing potential coordination among the nonprofit, the governor and the governor's campaign committee.
A few hours later, Greitens announced he would resign from office effective 5 p.m. Friday, leaving the question of whether A New Missouri would still have to comply with the judge's order.
Catherine Hanaway, a former House speaker who is representing A New Missouri, told The Star she had "reached out to House counsel to see whether they will dismiss their court case. I have not heard a response."
In a statement to The Star on Thursday afternoon, a spokesman for the Missouri House said A New Missouri must still turn over the required documents by Friday, as ordered by Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem.
"The (investigative) committee expects production in accordance with the court's order," the statement said.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said earlier this week that it was unclear whether the subpoena can be enforced after Greitens resigns, noting "the House’s jurisdiction over those matters will go away at some point with the governor’s announcement."
The documents, if they are produced, would be the first window into the secretive dark-money operation Greitens' political allies established in February 2017.
A New Missouri Inc. was created by Greitens' campaign treasurer and his campaign attorney, and run by Austin Chambers, the governor’s senior political adviser. It shares headquarters and some staff with Greitens' campaign committee, Greitens for Missouri.
The building it's housed in was purchased shortly before A New Missouri was created by one of Greitens' biggest donors.
Because it's a nonprofit, A New Missouri is not required to disclose its donors or abide by the state's campaign contribution limits.
In the days leading up to Greitens' decision to resign, sources with knowledge of the nonprofit told The Star that A New Missouri’s donors were panicking over the prospect that the House subpoena could reveal their identities.
The judge's order ultimately allowed for A New Missouri to redact information from the documents that pertain to identities of those who contributed, but the fear among the donors remained.
GOP leaders had been getting pressure to continue the probe despite Greitens’ resignation, including from their own members.
House Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, released a statement responding to Greitens' decision to quit that called for the House to investigate "the potentially illegal fund-raising practices and activity of the A New Missouri organization …”
That call was joined Thursday by state Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, who said in a letter to House and Senate leaders that Greitens' resignation shouldn't deprive Missourians "of the right to know how dark money and special interests are secretly influencing their government. This is too important to the future of our state and to the integrity of public service to be swept under the rug."
Greitens’ dark money also could end up as part of a lawsuit in Cole County court alleging that he and his staff conspired to circumvent Missouri’s open records laws by using Confide, an app that deletes a text after it's been read.
Mark Pedroli, one of two St. Louis attorneys who sued the Governor’s Office in late December over its use of Confide, said Thursday that dark money and secret communications networks “go hand-in-hand.”
“We will take the Confide investigation wherever the facts lead it,” Pedroli said, “whether that's A New Missouri or other dark-money groups. The people of this state are entitled to answers. We're not shutting down this investigation, that you can be sure."
Greitens has refused to answer questions from Pedroli about whether he ever used Confide to communicate with anyone associated with A New Missouri.
Greitens’ reliance on anonymous campaign cash has been a source of controversy since the beginning of his campaign.
A former campaign staffer testified under oath to the attorney general and House investigative committee that the governor's campaign was discussing a strategy to conceal the identity of its donors from the beginning.
During the 2016 campaign, Greitens' campaign benefited from $6 million worth of spending that was routed through nonprofits and into federal political action committees to hide where the money actually came from.
Greitens also is accused of using shell companies to funnel money into his campaign while concealing the original source of the money.
Since it was founded, A New Missouri has faced an almost constant stream of accusations of corruption.
Most recently, A New Missouri was 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.