Dark Money and the Downfall of Eric Greitens

The Missouri governor’s political immolation could provide a roadmap for campaign finance reforms.

June 6, 2018

Cross-posted from The American Prospect 

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens announced his resignation last week, just 16 months into a term that saw a career’s worth of scandals. But the spectacle continues. 

For those who haven’t been following the man’s political immolation, the tawdry parts are the stuff of prime-time TV: a Democrat-turned-Republican Navy SEAL; a dashing politician with presidential ambitions; an extramarital affair; alleged blackmail involving nude photos; and a felony charge over data tampering. For months, it seemed none of that was enough to knock Greitens from his perch.

Then, in a move that was both overdue and unexpected, he resigned. 

Just hours earlier, a county court had ordered a shadowy nonprofit doing political work for Greitens to turn over internal documents to a state legislative committee investigating his misconduct. Questions had already swirled around this group, A New Missouri. Structured as a social welfare nonprofit, it gives donors anonymity while simultaneously boosting the governor’s agenda.

Greitens, we now know, resigned as part of a deal to avoid criminal charges unrelated to the nonprofit. But the timing of his decision raises questions about A New Missouri—namely, whether the documents a judge ordered the group to produce could have supported allegations of improper coordination among the nonprofit, the governor’s office, and his campaign—and revealed the identities of previously secret donors. Reports that A New Missouri’s donors “were panicking” that their names might become public offer little hope for anyone seeking to give Greitens the benefit of the doubt. 

The probe into A New Missouri remains in limbo following Greitens’s resignation, with a sure-to-be contentious hearing set for this Thursday to decide whether the nonprofit must still release documents to the Missouri House of Representatives. But no matter what the judge determines, one conclusion seems clear: Elected officials should not be permitted to collect secret, unlimited donations from behind the shield of opaque nonprofits. The risks of corruption and of damage to the public trust are simply too grave.

A New Missouri has been as secretive about its funding as it has been aggressive in serving the former governor’s political ends. Soon after Greitens moved into the governor’s mansion, the nonprofit’s officials raised at least $865,000 in anonymous funds to promote his agenda and underwrite his occasional junkets out of state. The group’s headquarters are in a building owned by a major campaign donor to the governor—a building where, incidentally, Greitens’s campaign staff also set up camp. A top adviser to the governor, who also served as Greitens’s campaign treasurer, helms the nonprofit.

Read More at The American Prospect

(Photo: Daily Brian/ Flickr Commons)