Government & Politics

Lawsuit demands FEC action against dark money groups that backed Eric Greitens

A liberal watchdog organization filed a lawsuit Monday asking a court to force the Federal Elections Commission to take action on a complaint against four groups that funneled $6 million of anonymous campaign money into Eric Greitens’ 2016 campaign for governor.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, filed a complaint with the FEC in June 2018 alleging two political action committees and two nonprofits violated federal campaign law by directing money into the campaign in such a way as to deliberately hide the identity of the donors.

In the 15 months since it received the complaint, the FEC has taken no action.

Exacerbating the delay was the resignation of FEC Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen in late August, leaving the agency with less than the legal minimum of four commissioners to meet or conduct business.

CREW’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeks to force the FEC to take action within 30 days.

“After more than a year, the FEC has still failed to act on our complaint, part of a troubling pattern of excessive delay at the FEC that undermines the enforcement of campaign finance laws,” said Jordan Libowitz, CREW’s spokesman. “Dark money groups and super PACs funneled money to conceal the identity of donors supporting the election of now-former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens in 2016, in violation of the law. Answers are needed and action needs to be taken.”

Greitens resigned shortly before CREW’s complaint was filed. He was facing the possibility of two unrelated felony charges at the time, as well as possible impeachment.

In its complaint, CREW points to the testimony of Michael Hafner, a former Greitens aide, who told the Missouri attorney general’s office and a Missouri House investigative committee that Greitens’ campaign explored methods to conceal the identity of donors as early as 2015.

Hafner testified that the strategy was “intended to get a group of people that didn’t want to disclose who they were” to contribute “in a way that conceals donors.” Hafner said he had conversations in 2015 with donors in which the use of nonprofits to hide their identities was discussed.

CREW believes the plans Hafner described were put into place in 2016.

In the lead-up to the Republican primary that year, Greitens got a $4 million boost from a group called LG PAC.

Based in Kansas, LG PAC spent heavily on TV ads lambasting Greitens’ rivals for the nomination. Its name appeared to be an attempt to convince the public that it supported former Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who was also seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

It was later revealed that all of LG PAC’s money came from Freedom Frontier, a Texas-based nonprofit. By funneling the money through a nonprofit, which isn’t required to disclose its donors, the true origin of the contribution remains hidden.

Despite Greitens’ public assertions that there were no connections between his campaign and LG PAC, his top 2016 campaign adviser — Nick Ayers — was paid by both Freedom Frontier and the Greitens campaign.

Greitens also got $1.9 million during the 2016 campaign from a PAC called SEALs for Truth.

On the day the campaign received the $1.9 million contribution, it made two payments totaling a little more than $2 million to a media-buying firm affiliated with Ayers.

Once again, Greitens denied any knowledge of where that money originated, despite the fact that he admitted speaking with SEALs for Truth’s treasurer, Nicholas Britt.

Britt went through Navy SEAL training with Greitens.

Just as with LG PAC, all of SEALs for Truth’s money came from American Policy Coalition, a nonprofit connected to Ohio attorney David Langdon, whom the Center for Public Integrity labeled the “nexus of one of the nation’s most mysterious networks pouring secret money into elections.”

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Jason Hancock is The Star’s lead political reporter, providing coverage of government and politics on both sides of the state line. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he has written about politics for more than a decade for news organizations across the Midwest.