Controversial pro-Greitens nonprofit raised $6 million from secret donors in first year
A New Missouri, Inc., the secretly-funded nonprofit set up to back now-disgraced former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, raised more than $6 million in its first year of existence and spent more than $5 million, according to a new tax return obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
The group, which is not required to disclose its donors, was primarily bankrolled by more than a dozen six figure contributions as well as two separate $1 million contributions.
Roughly half of A New Missouri’s expenditures, $2.4 million, were dedicated to what the group described as “advocacy for term limits, fiscal reform, tax relief, and other policies to improve Missouri’s economy and reform its government,” which matches what the group said it spent on advertising and promotion. The group also contributed more than $1.5 million to other organizations, including a pair of Missouri political committees focused on “right-to-work” legislation. In an possible reference to the work that A New Missouri did with Greitens’ official state office, the group reported spending $56,000 on “non-lobbying advice/assistance to public officials regarding execution of official service.”
From its formation, A New Missouri was plagued with questions about the propriety of an entity that could accept unlimited contributions without disclosing the identity of its donors to the public being so closely affiliated with an elected official. In a report examining the prevalence of secretly-funded nonprofits aligned with governors, CREW cited A New Missouri as “an example of how closely and blatantly a shadow governance group can coordinate with a governor to bolster their political platform.”
A New Missouri’s leadership, however, dismissed questions about the group’s transparency, claiming that only “reporters and Democratic operatives” were concerned. Greitens’ senior advisor, Austin Chambers, told the Kansas City Star though that A New Missouri would “be backed by people who care deeply about seeing the agenda enacted here in Missouri.”
One of the only known contributors to A New Missouri is the Koch network group Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a nationally focused group that disclosed making a $50,000 contribution to the group on its most recent tax return.
Its staff was filled with veterans of the Greitens campaign, including Chambers and finance director Meredith Gibbons. Greitens’ general campaign consultant Nick Ayers, who is currently serving as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, also worked with A New Missouri.
Companies associated with Ayers were among A New Missouri’s top independent contractors. The nonprofit paid $1.7 million to Target Enterprises, a media buying firm that previously listed Ayers as a partner. Ayers’ consulting company, C5 Creative Consulting, which he sold in April 2018, was paid $184,143. Chambers, who is credited with running A New Missouri, was employed by C5. Another company that had previously compensated Ayers through C5, media production company Something Else Strategies, was paid $241,962. Both C5 and Something Else Strategies were also paid by the Greitens campaign in 2017 as was another one of A New Missouri’s top independent contractors, Bask Digital Media.
During Greitens’ brief tenure in office, A New Missouri paid for campaign-style ads boosting Greitens’ image and advocating for his policy proposals. It also promoted campaign-style rallies featuring Greitens, paid for travel, materials, and food for his supporters to attend rallies, and even paid to fly Greitens around the state.
The secretly-funded nonprofit also acted as an enforcer for Greitens, paying for ads and robocalls that attacked legislators who criticized him or opposed legislation he backed. One of the group’s attack ads even publicized a Republican state senator’s personal cell phone number.
When Greitens declared in May 2018 that he would resign from office, the announcement came just hours after a judge ordered the nonprofit to turn over documents sought by a Missouri House committee that was investigating Greitens. At the time, A New Missouri’s donors were reportedly “quietly panicking behind the scenes at the prospect that the House’s investigation could reveal their identities.” The timing led to speculation that preventing revelations about the nonprofit’s internal operations may have been a factor in Greitens decision. Soon after, the Missouri House ceased its effort to obtain documents from A New Missouri and ended its investigation into Greitens.
That wasn’t quite the end of A New Missouri’s troubles, though. In July 2018, Missouri state Rep. Jay Barnes, who chaired the special House committee that investigated Greitens, filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission alleging that A New Missouri and the Greitens campaign violated state campaign finance laws.
The Missouri Ethics Commission appears to be actively investigating the allegations in Rep. Barnes’ complaint. Michael Hafner, a former Greitens adviser, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he spoke to the commission’s investigators in November about the complaint.
Hafner had previously testified to the Missouri House’s special investigative committee about the Greitens campaign’s early plans to use nonprofits to conceal donor identities. Hafner’s testimony included a description of conversations he had with a wealthy Greitens supporter named Monu Joseph who Hafner said “wanted to know if there were avenues set up where, that were nonprofits or c4s, that they could bring money in and not disclose the source of those contributions.” On the tax return Joseph is listed as A New Missouri’s president.