Guest Commentary

Don’t let up on dark money’s corrupting influence in Missouri politics

Dishonest businessman secretly giving money to his partner in the dark - bribery scam and venality concepts
Dishonest businessman secretly giving money to his partner in the dark - bribery scam and venality concepts Big Stock Photo

As Missouri moves forward from a difficult chapter in its political history, one of the lessons former Gov. Eric Greitens’ administration shows us is the influence wielded by dark money. All Missourians should be concerned when a politician’s greatest loyalty is to a group formed intentionally to hide political donors, and when that group uses this untraceable money to influence how our government operates.

Taxpayers do not deserve this corrupting environment in Jefferson City. The concerns of Missourians must translate into action by elected officials.

This spring, a legislative committee investigating Greitens began digging into issues concerning the corrupting influence of dark money. As the committee’s chairman recommended Monday, that work is important and must continue. The same special interests that swayed the previous administration remain hidden. They will continue to operate in the shadows and seek opportunities to influence government actions.

I believe Missourians deserve transparency around political contributions to dark money groups, and that those groups should be required to file disclosures with the Missouri Ethics Commission. These are good government policies that promote openness and transparency.

Just as importantly, additional protections are needed to ensure that the government is spending tax dollars wisely.

Because of the veil of secrecy Greitens and dark money groups brought to Jefferson City, Missourians don’t know if there’s a money merry-go-round in which donors give secretly to the dark money groups to benefit politicians who, in turn, earmark government contracts to those same donors.

Legislation introduced in the General Assembly this year would have continued this troubling trend towards secrecy. I spoke out against a bill that would have upended decades of government contracting law and given a newly-created bureaucratic position the authority to award multi-million-dollar, no-bid contracts for vaguely defined “innovative technology.” It would even have permitted closing certain proposals to public scrutiny. This legislation didn’t pass, but other efforts are underway in Jefferson City to hide how your tax dollars are being spent.

That’s wrong.

Budgets are about priorities. We need to spend each tax dollar wisely, especially when our state’s budget is strained. That’s why it’s especially disconcerting when a government contract is awarded not only at a higher cost to taxpayers, but to the former company of the state’s current chief operating officer — who helps oversee government contracting and operations — and on the basis of a proposal largely redacted from public view.

In addition to being a CPA, I’m also a certified fraud examiner. But it doesn’t take these type of qualifications to know that this lack of accountability exposes tax dollars to abuse, and our government to corruption.

We need greater transparency in state government, not less. Legislation I pushed this past session to protect taxpayers by making public any connections between dark money donors and state government contracts must become law.

In a letter earlier this month, I urged members of the General Assembly to rein in dark money and secret donors in Missouri government. I’ve also expressed these concerns to our new governor, both in conversation and with a formal request. I laid out legislative solutions as well as an avenue to use his executive authority, as his predecessors did, to ensure fairness in government contracting.

I have fought to ensure that Missouri lives up to its reputation as the Show-Me State through greater openness, and I will keep fighting to give taxpayers the protections they deserve.

Nicole Galloway is Missouri state auditor.