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Former Greitens advocate group wants lawsuit seeking records tossed out

Former Gov. Eric Greitens' fall from office was by far the biggest political story of 2018 in Missouri.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
A New Missouri was created to promote the agenda of then-governor Eric Greitens. He resigned from office June 1.

Updated Friday with a response from the attorney general’s office – A non-profit group set up to promote the agenda of then-Gov. Eric Greitens is asking a Cole County judge to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks records of its activities.

St. Louis-based attorney Elad Gross filed suit in June against A New Missouri. He said he took action after the Missouri House committee that had been investigating the former governor halted its probe after Greitens’ resignation from office. The committee was also seeking records from A New Missouri, including its financing.

Attorney Catherine Hanaway, who represents the group, argued that Gross has no standing to file suit.

“For example, if someone was the resident of a homeless shelter, and receiving benefits from that not-for-profit, they would have the right to go and inspect those records,” she told reporters after the court hearing Thursday. “But here, Mr. Gross is just a member of the general public and has no particularized claim, and in Missouri you have to have some skin in the game to make a claim – that’s what standing is.”

Gross disagreed, saying A New Missouri claimed to benefit all Missouri residents, which includes himself.

He cited the group’s mission statement on its website: “A New Missouri is a section 501(c)(4) issue advocacy organization established to promote policies to create more jobs, higher pay, safer streets, better schools, and more, for all Missourians.”

He later told reporters: “What you can actually see from their financial disclosure records – the only ones that you can see because they gave them to other campaigns – is that they started spending money on our own elections, specifically on trying to pass right-to-work in this state.”

Hanaway says Gross is trying to expand the law beyond its original intent.

“Missouri law says you have to have a benefit coming to you, and you have to have had a harm done to you to make a claim – he has neither,” she said. “Federal law says we couldn’t have provided it to him on an individual basis – he’s not even close to making a [legitimate] claim here.”

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem told Hanaway and Gross that it would be at least two weeks before he could issue a ruling.

Gross also criticized Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley for not filing a consumer protection lawsuit against A New Missouri, and said that if Hawley doesn’t take action, he will file a suit.

Mary Compton, spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, said late Thursday that the Missouri Ethics Commission has the authority for enforce campaign finance laws and that it's currently investigating the group.

“Under Missouri law, the attornety general’s office has jurisdiction over charitable activities, while political activities – like spending money to influence an election – are regulated by the Missouri Ethics Commission.”

Follow Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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