Missouri's government was for sale to anonymous millionaires.
That's the inescapable conclusion one reaches after reading state Rep. Jay Barnes' complaint, filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission this week, concerning the antics of former Gov. Eric Greitens and his gang of cronies during the past four years.
Potential money laundering. Possible fraud. Campaign finance violations. Millions of dollars in secret campaign cash. No wonder Barnes, a Republican, once referred to some of Greitens' shenanigans as a "criminal enterprise."
It's tempting for Missourians to write off these concerns, especially since Greitens is gone. Politics as usual, some will say. All government is corrupt.
They are wrong. Greitens' reliance on secret nonprofits to further his political prospects was unprecedented and horrifying, a clear and present danger to transparent democracy in the state.
Barnes' complaint must be thoroughly investigated. If the allegations prove true, the Greitens cabal must be punished. Then, next year, the Missouri legislature should take concrete steps to prevent secret nonprofits from operating in the state ever again without full disclosure of their donors.
Missourians skeptical of the need for such action should take the time to read Barnes' complaint.
Greitens, it alleges, began planning a race for governor early in 2014. He met with at least one donor, drafted memos, discussed strategies for the race and spent money. Yet he failed to establish a campaign committee that year, despite advice that he needed to do so.
A committee, Greitens for Missouri, was eventually formed in 2015. But, Barnes alleges, "evidence ... strongly suggests that Greitens for Missouri engaged in activity purposefully designed to conceal donor identities."
The only reason for having campaign committees is to reveal donor identities. Secret campaign cash allows donors to influence policy decisions without public scrutiny. That seems awfully similar to from bribery.
And in this case, the chase for secret donations rose to multimillion-dollar levels. SEALs for Truth gave Greitens for Missouri nearly $2 million in the days before the 2016 GOP primary. Where did SEALs for Truth get the funds? From the American Policy Coalition Inc., it appears, a secret, dark-money nonprofit.
There's more. In the closing weeks of the 2016 primary, a Texas-based dark money nonprofit gave almost $4.4 million to LG PAC, a furtive political group that bought ads attacking Greitens' opponents. Again, Missourians have no idea who wanted to buy the governor's mansion for Greitens.
This pattern continued, ominously, once Greitens took office. In March 2017, a Greitens associate detailed fundraising targets for a handful of donors. One email says, "250K initial ask with an overall ask to be engaged in the future — should be on EGs call list."
It turns the stomach. So does A New Missouri, the secret nonprofit established in 2017 to advance the governor's interests. A New Missouri raised and spent millions from anonymous donors before Greitens escaped through the back door.
And remember: Much of this information might have remained secret had Greitens not engaged in an extramarital affair before taking office.
It simply has to stop. Missourians can't get money completely out of politics, but they can demand to know who's buying and who's selling candidates.
The Missouri Ethics Commission must bring lawbreakers to account. Then the legislature and Gov. Mike Parson must demand full disclosure of future political spending.