Eric Greitens’ political career in Missouri may be over, but the fight to bring needed reforms to Missouri government is just beginning.
And no issue is more important than curbing the influence of secret, dark money corporations raising millions of dollars to influence elections and legislation without needed public scrutiny.
Concerns about dark money’s influence grew during Greitens’ term in office, when a shadowy nonprofit called A New Missouri began secretly raising and spending money.
It was legal. Under federal tax law, social welfare nonprofits can keep the identity of donors secret.
Lawmakers were the target of the nonprofit’s wrath. A New Missouri attacked one state senator by revealing his private cellphone number and urging constituents to call.
Greitens insisted he was not involved in the “day-to-day” operations of the corporation, but few were fooled. A New Missouri was a tool for Greitens’ friends to raise hundreds of thousands in secret cash to punish his enemies.
That’s why the House committee investigating the now-former governor sought the corporation’s records. The committee went to court to enforce its subpoena.
Now that Greitens has quit, the legal fight to examine A New Missouri’s operations could come to an end. That would be a huge mistake.
A New Missouri is not the only social welfare nonprofit operating out of public view. Scores of dark money nonprofits have popped up in recent years, providing millions of dollars in secret cash for political purposes.
It’s outrageous and dangerous. Secret money turns popular democracy into a vending machine, where votes can be bought and sold by wealthy anonymous contributors.
The welfare of the people — in Missouri, the supreme law — doesn’t stand a chance.
It isn’t clear if the House committee has the authority to expand its investigation into the role of dark money in the state. In fact, now that Greitens has quit, the committee may simply dissolve.
That means dark money reform will be up to the full legislature and Gov. Mike Parson. They should all begin work immediately on a measure requiring social welfare nonprofits involved in political affairs to reveal their donors.
Lawmakers can use a recent advisory opinion from the Missouri Ethics Commission as a guide for their work. In May, the commission said political nonprofits are the equivalent of a political “committee” under state law and must reveal the names of contributors.
Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway and others say the commission’s finding should be embedded in state law as soon as possible, just to be sure. They’re right.
Those who support the use of dark money corporations claim secret donations are a matter of free speech. They aren’t. They’re a matter of bribery, conducted in the shadows.
Missouri can and should take a national leadership role on this issue. The state should require social welfare corporations to either reveal their donors or conduct business somewhere else.