COLUMBIA, Mo. — An ethics investigation found “probable cause” Thursday that disgraced former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ campaign broke the law by not reporting that it cooperated with a political action committee during his successful 2016 bid for the state’s top office.
Greitens, a former Navy SEAL officer, now works again for the Navy.
The Missouri Ethics Commission found that ads paid for by LG PAC “were express advocacy or its functional equivalent,” and that they were done “in cooperation” with Greitens’ gubernatorial campaign. The commission said there was probable cause that Greitens’ campaign violated finance laws by not reporting those ads as a gift.
The commission also concluded that Greitens' campaign likely violated financial reporting rules by not disclosing a poll given to the campaign that was paid for by A New Missouri. A New Missouri is a nonprofit that supported Greitens' agenda.
The commission ordered Greitens' campaign to pay a roughly $178,000 fine, but he only has to pay $38,000 within 45 days and the rest will be stayed. The campaign would only have to pay the rest of the money if he were to break more campaign finance laws in the next two years.
Charlie Spies, Greitens' attorney, told reporters that the campaign will pay the fine, though it denies doing anything wrong.
“The cost of settling with a $38,000 penalty is much more efficient than litigating this and winning in the court system,” Spies said.
Greitens, a Republican, resigned in 2018 amid allegations of sexual misconduct and campaign violations as he battled mounting legal bills and the pressures of defending against possible impeachment and a criminal trial.
The commission said that it didn't find any evidence that Greitens personally knew about the campaign finance issues.
“However, candidates are ultimately responsible for all reporting requirements,” the commission wrote in its report.
Greitens issued a statement saying that the report exonerates him.
"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," Greitens said.
According to the commission, Greitens’ campaign finance director and a national fundraising consultant for the campaign in 2015 compiled a list of people who might be willing to donate to a PAC but who did not want to give directly to the campaign. The fundraising consultant and finance director were instructed to give the list to a worker with the nonprofit Freedom Frontier.
Over the course of two months in 2016, Freedom Frontier gave $4,370,000 to LG PAC.
The commission found that the contributions “appear to correlate” to ad buys by LG PAC that either praised Greitens or slammed his opponents in the Republican primary.
The report also says that after Greitens' campaign manager raised concerns about the Springfield, Missouri, media market with an outside political consultant in July 2016, LG PAC spent more than $98,000 on ads there.
The campaign manager in an email to a vendor said "well at least he listened when I told him we were worried about Brunner in Springfield."
John Brunner was among several candidates competing against Greitens for the Republican nomination in 2016.
Greitens has roughly $638,00 in his still-active campaign account and can use that money to pay the fine.
The commission's review stemmed from a complaint filed in July 2018 by Republican Rep. Jay Barnes, who chaired the House committee that investigated the former governor.
Salter contributed from St. Louis.