News Briefs

FEC member pans decision not to investigate groups that helped elect Greitens in 2016

By: - July 14, 2022 10:36 am

Former Gov. Eric Greitens speaks in April 2021 at the Macon County Lincoln Days dinner (Andrew Murphy photo).

A member of the Federal Election Commission is criticizing her agency’s failure to fully investigate groups that funneled $6 million of anonymous money into Missouri to boost Eric Greitens’ 2016 campaign for governor. 

Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, said in an official statement of reasons made public this week that the scheme “was clearly designed to avoid the transparency federal law requires.” But her colleagues declined to authorize a full investigation, she wrote, because they felt it would not be a wise use of the agency’s resources. 

“Time after time, my colleagues claim we should not use our resources to pursue investigations,” Weintraub wrote. “But this agency was created to ‘follow the money’ and is charged with enforcing the law. The comprehensive record before the commission demonstrating a multimillion-dollar contribution-in-the-name-of-another scheme is exactly the sort of matter for which Congress appropriates funds to the FEC to enable us to investigate.”

Greitens is now running for the U.S. Senate. His campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

The FEC deliberation stemmed from a complaint filed in 2018 by a liberal government watchdog called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW. The complaint focused on the actions of two federal PACs — LG PAC and SEALs for Truth — and two nonprofits — American Policy Coalition and Freedom Frontier.

In the lead-up to the 2016 Republican primary, Greitens got a $4 million boost from LG PAC. Based in Kansas, LG PAC spent heavily on TV ads lambasting Greitens’ rivals for the nomination. 

Its name appeared to be an attempt to convince the public that it supported former Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who was also seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination. It was later revealed that all of LG PAC’s money came from Freedom Frontier. By funneling the money through a nonprofit, which isn’t required to disclose its donors, the true origin of the contribution remains hidden.

Despite Greitens’ public assertions that there were no connections between his campaign and LG PAC, his top 2016 campaign adviser — Nick Ayers — filed financial disclosure forms a year later revealing that he was paid by both Freedom Frontier and the Greitens campaign. 

Shortly before the 2016 GOP primary, Greitens’ campaign received what was at the time the largest single donation to a candidate in Missouri history — $1.9 million from SEALs for Truth.

On the day the campaign received the contribution, it made two payments totaling a little more than $2 million to a media-buying firm affiliated with Ayers. 

Once again, Greitens denied any knowledge of where that money originated, despite the fact that he admitted speaking with SEALs for Truth’s treasurer, Nicholas Britt, who went through Navy SEAL training with Greitens. 

Just as with LG PAC, all of SEALs for Truth’s money came from a nonprofit — American Policy Coalition, a group connected to an Ohio attorney named David Langdon whom the Center for Public Integrity once labeled the “nexus of one of the nation’s most mysterious networks pouring secret money into elections.”

Weintraub wrote that the FEC’s nonpartisan Office of General Counsel “convincingly argued that the nonprofit organizations were not the true sources of the contributions.”

Additionally, she wrote, the FEC had an abundance of information about the donations thanks to investigations by a legislative committee that was considering impeaching Greitens in 2018, as well as the Missouri Ethics Commission, which looked into the matter and levied a fine against Greitens’ campaign committee

“The allegations in this matter were credible, with a factual record well-developed by thorough investigations by both a state legislative committee and a state ethics commission,” Weintraub wrote. “Our lawyers had plenty of time to build on the record of those investigations and enforce the law in this matter. We should have authorized them to do so.”

James Trainor III, a Republican and chairman of the FEC, wrote last year in a statement of reasons that he doubted the agency could complete its investigation before statutes of limitation expired. 

He also questioned whether it was a good use of investigators time to delve into an issue that was being investigated at the state level, given “the extensive backlog of pending enforcement matters at the FEC (largely the result of the extended lack of a quorum.”

“Weighing all these factors,” he wrote, “I concluded that the prudent course of action is to focus commission resources on other matters.”

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.