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Ethics Commission Fines Greitens Campaign $178K For Donation Violations, He Hints Of A Comeback

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens walks out of the Civil Courts Building in downtown St. Louis after his felony invasion of privacy charge was dropped. May 14, 2018
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri Ethics Commission fined former Gov. Eric Greitens $178,000 for campaign finance reporting violations.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. with Greitens' comments on Facebook

After almost 20 months and nearly two dozen subpoenas, the Missouri Ethics Commission closed an investigation into former Gov. Eric Greitens’ campaign by fining him $178,000 — which could be significantly reduced with a prompt payment.

Soon after the ethics commission handed down its decision, Greitens took to Facebook for the first time since May 2018 to react to the news — and hint at a political comeback.

While Greitens signed a consent order about failing to disclose in-kind donations, the ethics commission dismissed a slew of other allegations against the former governor. That included running an illegal shadow campaign operation to avoid the state’s campaign-donation laws.

The total fine amounts to $178,000, but the amount will be reduced to $38,000 if it’s paid within 45 days. That’s a fairly standard stipulation when it comes to Missouri campaign finance fines.

The commission also stated that it found no evidence that Greitens personally engaged in wrongdoing or that he had any knowledge of the two violations.

In a statement, Greitens said, “I’m grateful that the truth has won out, but this was never really about me — they launched this attack because we were fighting for the people of Missouri.” 

“It’s good to have been exonerated, and I’m glad to have been vindicated,” Greitens said.

On Facebook, he wrote that this news "makes clear what many of you knew all along: in 2018 our justice system was abused. Lies were told and bribes were paid in a criminal effort to overturn the 2016 election. And now, the truth is beginning to come out."

"I’ve never been a guy who likes to admit he’s hurting, but personally this past year and a half has been the hardest of my life — there have been plenty of dark days," Greitens wrote. "But, as anyone who has gone through pain knows, you can emerge stronger."

Greitens' undoing began after his 2018 State of the State speech when he admitted to having an extramarital affair before he became governor. He was charged with invasion of privacy for taking a semi-nude photo of the woman without her permission, but those charges were dropped. And a felony computer tampering charge over allegations involving a charity he started, The Mission Continues, was dropped in exchange for his resignation.

The woman at the center of the story accused Greitens of sexual and physical abuse, which he denied. 

A House committee was moving to impeach Greitens when he stepped down in June 2018, elevating Mike Parson to the governorship. Since that time, Greitens has kept a low profile — though his campaign committee remained active. Some of Greitens' prior supporters have urged him to run against Parson again in the 2020 GOP primary.

Greitens said at the end of his Facebook post: "Many people have asked about revenge. That’s not what we need. Revenge is about the past. Justice is about the future." 

"And, I’ll tell you, the future is bright," he concluded.

Details of the ethics complaint

Soon after he left office, three lawmakers who served on a committee poised to file articles of impeachments filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Among other things, the complaint alleged that Greitens intentionally concealed donations during the 2016 gubernatorial campaign by accepting a huge donation from a group called SEALS For Truth. It also accused Greitens of circumventing Missouri’s campaign finance laws through a nonprofit known as A New Missouri. The ethics commission dismissed those charges. 

But Greitens and the commission did come to a consent agreement order regarding a failure to report in-kind contributions from an entity known as the LG PAC, which ran ads during the primary attacking Greitens’ opponents. In-kind contributions are goods or services offered to a campaign for free.

The consent order details coordination between Greitens campaign officials and people seemingly associated with LG PAC. It points out how Greitens campaign officials directed certain donors to Tom Norris, who was working a politically active nonprofit called Freedom Frontier. Freedom Frontier then donated $4.37 million to LG PAC for ads.

The order details how a political consultant and Greitens’ campaign manager spoke by telephone. And the campaign manager expressed concern about the Springfield market.

The LG PAC then spent $98,000 on advertisements. And when a Greitens vendor alerted the Greitens campaign about the ad buy, the campaign manager replied, “Well, at least he listened when I told him we were worried about Brunner in Springfield.” Brunner is John Brunner, who was Greitens’ chief rival in the 2016 GOP primary.

In 2016, Missouri didn’t have campaign contribution limits — so, such activity wouldn’t have been against campaign finance law but would have required a disclosure of an in-kind contribution.

The order also found that A New Missouri in 2017 paid for nearly $80,000 in polling that the Greitens campaign committee received. Even if that would have reported as an in-kind contribution, Missouri had instituted campaign limits by 2017 — so Greitens’ campaign wouldn’t have been able to accept a free service of that cost.

During a conference call with reporters, Greitens’ attorneys, Charlie Spies and Catherine Hanaway, characterized the two violations as fairly routine infractions.

“I mean, these are really meat-and-potatoes kind of campaign reporting violations,” said Hanaway, who was one of Greitens’ GOP rivals in the 2016 primary.

When asked how Greitens could consider himself exonerated while signing a consent order that admitted to two campaign finance violations, Hanaway said, “Neither the statute nor the consent decree says it’s the candidate’s responsibility to know what’s going on.”

“The way the statute reads, the candidate is held ultimately responsible,” Hanaway said. “In fact, in the consent decree the commission said it concluded he did not know. So, look: The way the statute is written in Missouri, there is no knowledge requirement. The commission said he didn’t know. He didn’t know. So he is personally exonerated from any wrongdoing with respect to his campaign.”

Hanaway said the $38,000 will be paid to the commission in short order.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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