Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is facing questions about whether he improperly used a donor list from the charity he founded before making his run for statewide office in 2016.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner brought charges against Greitens, alleging one felony count of tampering with computer data. Prosecutors allege he directed an employee in April 2015 to take a list of $1,000 donors to The Mission Continues, a veterans’ charity. Greitens also faces invasion of privacy charges for allegedly taking a nonconsensual nude photograph of a former lover, for which he was indicted in February.
Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, founded The Mission Continues in 2007 and stepped down as CEO of the organization in 2014, ahead of his run for office in 2016. The Associated Press previously had reported significant overlap between donors to the organization and the Greitens campaign.
Attorneys for the governor requested that the prosecutor in the case be replaced with a special prosecutor, a hearing for which was scheduled on Tuesday, according to Susan Ryan, a spokeswoman for Gardner. A judge did not yet rule on that request. Greitens’ first public court appearance is scheduled for May 22 while a grand jury will be convened in the coming weeks, she said.
During an April 17 press conference, Attorney General Josh Hawley said his office has been investigating the activities of The Mission Continues for about two months under the state’s charitable registration and consumer protection laws.
“The aim of the investigation has been to determine whether charitable resources were used for political or personal gain,” Hawley said. “Over the course of the investigation, we have uncovered evidence of wrongdoing that goes beyond Missouri’s charity laws. Within the past several days, we have obtained evidence of potential criminal violations” committed by the governor, he said.
Specifically, recent evidence supported probable cause that Greitens obtained an electronic list of donors who gave $1,000 or more, created by The Mission Continues for internal purposes. “He used that list for his political fundraising. He transmitted that list for political fundraising, and he did all of this without the permission of The Mission Continues, according to Hawley. If proven, these acts could amount to the unauthorized taking and use of property, in this case, electronic property, he said.
Since it’s a criminal matter, jurisdiction lies with the local prosecutor where criminal acts were allegedly committed, in this case the City of St. Louis, which is why the Attorney General’s Office shared all information with the St. Louis Circuit Attorney. His office also will share information with the House Investigative Committee.
“The Mission Continues did not provide, nor authorize any use of, our donors’ information to the Greitens campaign or any persons or groups for political or campaign purposes,” The Mission Continues President Spencer Kympton wrote in a blog post in early March.
The St. Louis, Mo.-headquartered charity, which raised almost $13 million last year, was notified by the Missouri Ethics Commission in November 2016 that the governor’s campaign had obtained and used a list of donor contacts for political purposes. “The list in question was created and saved for legitimate purposes prior” to Greitens’ departure from organization, according to Kympton’s post. Recent reports indicate that this list was later transmitted without knowledge or permission of the charity to individuals who would become central to the Greitens for Governor campaign, he wrote.
Since last week’s press conference, The Mission Continues has reiterated that it abstains from any and all political activities, nor did it provide or authorize the use of its donor information to any person or group for political or campaign purposes. It’s been cooperating with the Attorney General’s Office. Charities are prohibited from participating on behalf of a candidate or political campaign or risk losing tax-exempt status.
The Attorney General’s investigation of The Mission Continues will proceed, Hawley said. “As we continue to collect and review evidence, we may identify other instances of potential wrongdoing. If we do, we will refer those matters to the appropriate prosecuting or regulatory authorities,” he said.
The investigation of The Mission Continues has been “ongoing for the better part of two months,” Hawley said but declined to put a specific date on it because it would reveal evidence of who the office has been talking to and when. “I would prefer not to give anyone on the other side any heads-up,” he said.
Hawley is considered the front-runner among almost a dozen Republicans in the Aug. 7 primary for U.S. Senate. The Senate race against Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in November’s general election is considered a toss-up.
Allegations that Greitens had misused the charity’s donors list initially surfaced last fall, with the governor paying a campaign finance fine.
In a tweet last week after Hawley’s press conference, Greitens said he will not be resigning the governor’s office and that once the matter goes to court, the facts will prove his innocence.