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Watchdog alleges Greitens broke campaign laws in Senate bid

An election watchdog on Thursday filed a federal complaint alleging former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens violated campaign finance laws in his bid for U.S. Senate.

Washington-based nonprofit campaign finance watchdog group Campaign Legal Center filed the Federal Elections Commission complaint against Greitens, who resigned in 2018 amid a sex scandal and other claims of campaign finance misconduct. He’s now running for retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s seat in a crowded GOP primary.

Greitens, a prolific fundraiser during his successful 2016 gubernatorial bid, had more than $1 million left in his state campaign committee bid when he resigned in 2018. The complaint alleges Greitens unlawfully used more than $100,000 of that to kickstart his Senate bid.

The complaint lists $18,000 that Greitens’ state campaign spent on a political website that his Senate campaign now is using. His federal campaign reported that expense as an in-kind contribution from Greitens himself.

The complaint also alleges Greitens began paying his current campaign manager Dylan Johnson, as well as an LLC created by Johnson, out of his state campaign account years before Greitens announced the launch of his U.S. Senate campaign in March.

State campaign funds cannot be used for federal campaigns.

Greitens’ Senate campaign said that “no gubernatorial campaign funds were used for the Senate campaign” and called the allegations “ludicrous.”

“Funds from the state campaign were used for compliance and to defend against attacks,” the campaign said in a statement.

Campaign Legal Center said in a statement that the law is in place to prevent former state-level candidates, especially ones in states that allow unlimited campaign fundraising, from getting an unfair advantage over other federal candidates, who can’t accept more than $2,900 in contributions per donor under federal law.

Missouri allowed unlimited political donations during Greitens’ 2016 gubernatorial bid, although the state later put caps on campaign contributions.

“Senate candidates cannot quietly finance their campaign with six-figure and corporate contributions,” Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform for Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement.

Greitens was a political newcomer when he won his first bid for office in 2016 and went on to become Missouri governor.

His meteorite rise imploded in 2018 when he resigned amid several scandals, including accusations that he took a compromising photo of a woman without her consent during a 2015 extramarital affair and used it to blackmail her into keeping quiet.

Campaign finance issues also played a role in his 2018 departure. Then Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican and now a senator, in 2018 opened an inquiry into whether Greitens used a donor list from his charity for his political campaign.

Hawley’s investigation determined that Greitens may have committed a felony by taking the charity’s donor list and using it for political fundraising without the charity’s permission, and he was charged with felony tampering with computer data in April 2018.

In February 2020, the Missouri Ethics Commission found “probable cause” and issued a $178,000 fine, though it required payment of just $38,000.

The commission didn’t find evidence that Greitens personally knew about the campaign finance issues. For that reason, Greitens said the report exonerated him.

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