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Greitens accused of intentionally skirting state election laws

The Republican chairman of the now-defunct House panel that investigated then-Gov. Eric Greitens has filed a formal complaint with the state Ethics Commission accusing Greitens of running an illegal shadow campaign operation to avoid the state’s campaign-donation laws.

“With the ethics complaint that has been filed based on the work of the House investigative committee, the Missouri Ethics Commission has overwhelming evidence to conclude that Eric Greitens, his campaign committee and affiliated dark-money organization broke state campaign-finance laws,” said Democratic committee members Gina Mitten and Tommie Pierson Jr.

The complaint was filed by the former chairman, state Rep. Jay Barnes, a Republican from Jefferson City. Mitten and Pierson released the complaint Tuesday. Both are Democrats from St. Louis County.

The two allege that Republican legislative leaders and Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, are now intentionally overlooking the illegal activities since Greitens resigned from office June 1.

Hawley has defended his actions, citing his office's various probes into Greitens' activities.

Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens

Catherine Hanaway, one of Greitens' lawyers, said in a statement that the complaint "is full of false accusations."

Among other things, Barnes’ complaint alleges that Greitens illegally began his campaign for governor months before filing the required paperwork with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

But its most explosive accusations are aimed at the outside groups that aided Greitens and did not identify their donors.

Although there’s long been attention on A New Missouri, the outside group allegedly formed by Greitens’ allies, the complaint cites evidence – notably, emails – that make clear that A New Missouri was overseen by Greitens himself. It was run by the same aides overseeing his public-campaign committee, Greitens for Governor.

The complaint notes that the two operations shared office space and a number of staffers, including:

  • former campaign manager Austin Chambers, who managed both
  • finance director Meredith Gibbons
  • legal counsel Hanaway (a former state House speaker who ran against Greitens in 2016)
  • consultant Nick Ayers – now chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence

State Rep. Jay Barnes, left, at the first meeting of the House committee tasked with investigating then-Gov. Eric Greitens.
Credit Tim Bommel | Missouri House Communications
State Rep. Jay Barnes, left, at the first meeting of the House committee tasked with investigating then-Gov. Eric Greitens.

Lucinda Luetkemeyer, Greitens’ general counsel in his state office, routinely attended meetings for both campaign entities, the complaint says. Her involvement may have violated state law limiting political activity by a politician’s official staff paid for by taxpayers.

Luetkemeyer could not be immediately reached for comment.

Some of the emails indicate that Gibbons, the finance director, was involved in directing Greitens to recommend to certain major donors to give large donations to A New Missouri or other nonprofits with ties to the then-governor.

The clear aim, the complaint says,  was to avoid the state’s campaign-donation limits of $2,600 that have been in place since December 2016.

Hanaway disputed that conclusion. "The Greitens for Missouri campaign never attempted to solicit or receive campaign contributions from 'prohibited sources.' There was never any attempt by staff or consultants of the Greitens Campaign to violate campaign finance law. Missouri law was not violated - period. Any suggestion otherwise is completely false, and the facts prove that.”

Complaint alleges nonprofit broke the law

Missouri’s laws governing nonprofits known as 501(c)(4)s do not require that they identify their donors. However, other provisions of state election law bar the intentional hiding of campaign donors.

And federal law requires that 501(c)(4)s spend less than half of their money on politics. The evidence cited in the complaint implies that A New Missouri, in particular, may have violated that restriction by spending most of its money on political activities.

Barnes’ complaint asserts that A New Missouri and Greitens for Governor violated state campaign laws with their joint operations, which Barnes asserts were solely to skirt the donation restrictions mandated by Amendment 2, which Missouri voters passed in November 2016.

The complaint points to emails that indicate individual donations ranging from $100,000 to $1 million were directed to A New Missouri. Contributions to Greitens for Governor could be no more than $2,600 per donor.

Greitens and his campaign operatives also are accused in the complaint of improperly soliciting or collecting donations to A New Missouri from "restricted donors'' -- people who would be barred from donating to his regular campaign committee. One "restricted donor'' cited in the complaint appeared to be someone who "manages money for the state" and therefore would be barred from contributing to Greitens' regular campaign committee.

The 25-page complaint also cites several other nonprofits or political action committees – including Seals for Truth and LG PAC – that appear to have collected donations and spent money in 2016 expressly to help Greitens, and with his knowledge. The complaint notes that Greitens had publicly denied any such ties during his 2016 campaign.

In fact, Greitens had told St. Louis Public Radio in a January 2016 appearance – early in his campaign for governor – that he was committed to making his donors public. He blasted GOP opponents who he alleged were not transparent.

The House committee led by Barnes was set up in the wake of a number of accusations of illegal wrongdoing by Greitens. Aside from questionable money-raising, the former governor also was accused of violating the privacy of his then-mistress in 2015 when he allegedly took a partially nude photo of her without her consent.

Read: Barnes' complaint to the Missouri Ethics CommisisonLoading...

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

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Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.
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