The Missouri House has dropped its effort to enforce a subpoena demanding documents from former Gov. Eric Greitens’ secretive dark money nonprofit.
Lawmakers had asked Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem to force Greitens’ nonprofit, called A New Missouri Inc., to turn over records they believe might demonstrate efforts to illegally circumvent the state's campaign disclosure laws.
A New Missouri’s attorney, Catherine Hanaway, argued that Greitens’ resignation meant the House investigation that inspired the subpoena is over, and thus, there was no need to enforce the subpoena.
Beetem originally agreed with the House and ordered A New Missouri to abide by the subpoena. He delayed enforcing that ruling Friday in order to give Hanaway the chance to make her case for dismissing the subpoena.
Beetem was scheduled to hear arguments on both sides at 1 p.m. Thursday.
But on Wednesday, Mark Kempton — a former Pettis County prosecutor hired to serve as special counsel for a House committee that’s been investigating Greitens for months — wrote a letter to Beetem saying that the committee still believes “the requested records are relevant to its charge and should be produced for the committee and all Missourians to see.”
However, Kempton wrote, the committee has decided ask the judge to dismiss its petition to enforce the subpoena.
Kempton's letter says the committee is "reviewing its options with respect to obtaining the requested records."
Hanaway could not immediately be reached for comment.
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 concerned about the prospect of the House subpoena leading to their identities being revealed.
Even though Beetem allowed for information pertaining to donor identity to be redacted, the fear remained. And it began to percolate beyond Greitens’ political universe, with some national donors and fundraisers wondering what kind of precedent Missouri could be about to set in regards to outing anonymous contributors.
Gregg Keller is a veteran GOP political consultant and one of Greitens’ fiercest critics. He’s also an outspoken supporter of donors’ rights to anonymity, arguing that disclosure has the potential to chill speech through harassment and intimidation.
Greitens agreeing with him on that point doesn’t make the argument less valid, Keller said.
“The case for Greitens’ impeachment was never about any one issue,” he said. “It rested on the idea that a man who we have every reason to believe struck a woman in anger, attempted to blackmail a woman, stole from a charity, stole from a school, lied to Missourians and their elected representatives, and knowingly signed a false affidavit to the Missouri Ethics Commission wasn’t fit to be chief executive of our state government.
“Just because Greitens also believed in the constitutional rights of Americans to assembly and free speech," he said, "in no way negates those essential rights of the people.”
A New Missouri’s documents, if they were produced, would have been 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 is 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.
According to publicly available information, A New Missouri spent more than $2 million over the last year on political ads and contributions to campaign committees advocating on behalf of a right-to-work law.
How much more it spent during that time that wasn't publicly disclosed is unknown.
With that much secret money in state politics, accusations of corruption and pay-to-play dogged Greitens throughout his 17 months in office.
Rep. Mark Ellebracht, D-Liberty, said the need to sort out who was behind the dark money doesn’t end just because Greitens resigned.
“The investigation into campaign finance violations must continue,” he said. “The Missouri House routinely conducts investigations leading to strengthening state law — this historic resignation should prompt all elected officials towards increased compliance with the laws rather than shying away from an otherwise uncomfortable controversy.”
Mark Pedroli, one of a pair of St. Louis attorneys who sued the governor’s office late last year alleging Greitens and his staff used a secret texting app to circumvent the state’s open records laws, said previously that the issue of dark money could become a part of his lawsuit as well.
On Wednesday, Pedroli said the Missouri House “has inherent authority to investigate anything." He questioned the motives of GOP leaders who launched the inquiry in the first place.
“Ending their fledgling investigation into dark money is disheartening,” he said. “It begs the question, was the investigation about reforming the system or changing personnel?”