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Missouri Ethics Commission fines ex-governor $178,000 for campaign finance violations

Jack Suntrup and Kurt Erickson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in News & Features

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- State ethics regulators have fined the campaign of former Gov. Eric Greitens $178,000 over campaign finance violations dating to his upstart, outsider bid to become Missouri's chief executive.

The Missouri Ethics Commission released its long-awaited probe of Greitens' campaign apparatus Thursday. The commission found reasonable grounds to believe the Greitens campaign committed two violations of Missouri law, but dismissed other allegations.

The MEC said the fine was linked to two dark money groups that were raising and spending money to further Greitens' political career.

"The MEC investigation did not find that Eric Greitens had personal knowledge" of the violations, the report noted, "however, candidates are ultimately responsible for all reporting requirements."

A consent order says Greitens can pay $38,000 of the fine and be done with the case as long as no more violations occur, and said the ethics commission "found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Eric Greitens, individually."

Despite the fine, Greitens' legal team declared victory.

"Eric Greitens is and always has been innocent of these false accusations. Our contention from the beginning was that the accusations against Mr. Greitens were baseless," said Catherine Hanaway, who ran against Greitens in the GOP primary for governor in 2016.

Greitens said in a statement that he is "grateful that the truth has won out."

In July 2018, then-Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican who had led a Missouri House investigation into Greitens, filed a complaint with the ethics commission.

More than 18 months later, on Thursday, the ethics commission issued an order that said Greitens' campaign should have reported as an in-kind contribution polling data it received from A New Missouri, the dark-money group Greitens aides formed in 2017 to boost the governor's brand.

The ethics commission also said Greitens should have reported spending by LG PAC in 2016 as an in-kind contribution.

The ethics commission did not investigate whether Greitens illegally ran an off-the-books campaign in 2014 and 2015 because the two-year statute of limitations on the alleged offense had expired, the commission said.

The commission dismissed other allegations lodged against the ex-governor's campaign after reviewing "235 pages of supporting documentation; the issuance of 23 subpoenas, which resulted in the production of roughly 8,000 multipage documents, emails, and videos; approximately 20 interviews conducted by commission investigators."

 

Barnes filed the ethics complaint after Greitens, a Republican, resigned on June 1, 2018, after months of scandal, much of it unrelated to the allegations contained in Barnes' complaint.

In May 2018, as political and legal pressure continued to build against the embattled governor, the House investigative committee emerged from behind closed doors to hold a series of public hearings in which members took testimony about Greitens' activities.

Greitens announced his resignation on May 29, 2018, the same day a Cole County judge ordered A New Missouri to release financial information to the House investigative committee.

Soon after Greitens' resignation announcement, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner, a Democrat, announced she was dropping a felony computer tampering case against Greitens that involved Greitens' alleged use of a charity donor list for political fundraising purposes.

The charges followed a referral from then-Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, who launched an investigation into the donor list after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Greitens' campaign had received the list from a former employee of the charity Greitens founded, the Mission Continues.

The House essentially stopped digging after Greitens' resignation, but Barnes published a scorching letter in late June calling A New Missouri a "criminal enterprise." He leveled a series of other allegations, even accusing Greitens of possible literary fraud related to the book Greitens published in 2015.

Barnes declined to comment Thursday.

Greitens, who now works for the U.S. Navy, reported having $637,977 in his still-active campaign account. He can use that money to pay the fine.

In its report, the MEC noted that Greitens has spent more than $500,000 on legal fees related to the case since the complaint was filed.

(c)2020 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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