Missouri governor inspired disputes before affair was public
Missouri Republican Gov. Eric Greitens courted controversy and touched off political disputes even before acknowledging an extramarital affair and facing bombshell allegations that he blackmailed the woman involved.
Greitens has been a rising star in the national Republican Party and a welcome partner for state GOP lawmakers, whose favored policies had faced a Democratic governor’s veto pen until Greitens’ election in 2016. He also seemed to have his sights set on even higher office, having secured the web address EricGreitensforPresident.com years before running for governor.
But he also made missteps as a first-time candidate and then as a freshman governor, raising questions in particular about secrecy.
Greitens acknowledged Wednesday that he had an extramarital affair in 2015, but he denies the blackmail allegations and is telling supporters that a St. Louis prosecutor’s investigation will clear him.
A look at some of the notable hiccups during Greitens’ first campaign and first year in office:
While running for governor, Greitens repeatedly touted his volunteer work with refugees in the Balkans in 1994, saying he helped children in Bosnia, where thousands died amid ethnic strife following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. He later acknowledged that most of the work was in safer, neighboring Croatia. Asked about the word choice, Greitens told The Associated Press that people recognized what happened in Bosnia and understood working with Bosnian refugees. But the choice also may have had a political advantage: Missouri has a large population of Bosnian refugees.
CHARITY IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Greitens’ campaign for governor had access to the donor list for The Mission Continues, a veterans’ charity he founded, and raised $2 million from individuals and entities that had given the charity significant contributions. Democrats said it was the kind of insider politics that Greitens decried in his campaign, and the chairman of the state party filed an ethics complaint contending he should have disclosed the list as an in-kind contribution. Greitens initially denied using the charity’s list for fundraising, then belatedly reported it as an in-kind contribution. He paid a $100 fine.
Federal law prohibits charities such as The Mission Continues from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of candidates. The IRS has said charities cannot give their donor lists away but can rent them at fair market value if they’re available to all candidates.
During his campaign, Greitens emphasized how he started The Mission Continues with combat pay from a tour in Iraq, and he initially worked for the charity without pay. But as donations rose, he started taking a salary, and it hit $175,000 in 2011 — above the median for nearly 240 medium-sized charities in the Midwest, though not extravagant, according to analysts. Greitens’ Democratic opponent suggested in an ad that the Republican was diverting money that was supposed to be used to help veterans.
Greitens made fighting corruption and making ethics reforms a key part of his successful campaign for governor. Once elected, he broke with tradition by refusing to disclose the amount of the donations to his inaugural festivities. Democratic legislators said the move could allow him to hide any conflicts of interest.
DARK MONEY HELP
Within weeks of Greitens taking office, his campaign treasurer founded a nonprofit group to promote the new governor’s agenda. The group can take an unlimited amount of money from donors and it does not have to reveal who is contributing.
Separately, Greitens received a contribution of nearly $2 million for his campaign from a super PAC with only a single, mystery group as a donor.
The state attorney general’s office is reviewing Greitens’ and some of his staff’s use of a secretive app that deletes messages after they’re read. The review was announced after The Kansas City Star reported that the governor and some of his staff have Confide accounts tied to their personal cellphones. The app also prevents recipients from saving, forwarding, printing or taking screenshots of messages. Government-transparency advocates worry that use of the app could undermine open-record laws.
Greitens worked for months to appoint five new members to the eight-member State Board of Education and engineer its firing of the state’s education commissioner. The effort drew strong criticism from some educators and lawmakers, who praised former Commissioner Margie Vandeven’s work. Greitens was never clear about what Vandeven had done wrong; critics said the move interfered with the independence of the school board. Now those new board appointees face confirmation by the state Senate, where two Greitens foes have vowed to filibuster.
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