JEFFERSON CITY – Campaign literature paid for by Gov. Eric Greitens to promote the candidacy of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence should have been paid for with federal funds, according to a report by attorneys working for the Federal Election Commission.
A split vote prevented further action, however. The commission voted in February to neither accept the recommendations of its legal staff nor dismiss the complaint, which a Missouri Democrat filed against the Republican governor days before the November 2016 election.
The mixed conclusion on whether Greitens and his campaign broke federal election law was released with little fanfare in March and promptly buried by the governor’s ongoing legal and political drama.
The complaint was filed by Crystal Brinkley, then the executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party, in the homestretch of a heated race between Greitens and Democrat Chris Koster, the former state attorney general.
Brinkley cited a “get-out-the-vote” mailer paid for by the Greitens for Missouri campaign that implored Missourians to “Vote November 8th” and included the Trump-Pence campaign logo as well as those of Greitens and Lt. Gov. Mike Parson. The mailer also included a photo of Pence and Greitens together and included a statement of Greitens’ priorities.
Pence campaigned with Greitens in Springfield in September 2016 and released a radio advertisement backing Greitens shortly before the election. A key Greitens campaign aide, Nick Ayers, later became Pence’s chief of staff, and Pence visited Missouri in 2017 to help Greitens and volunteers clean up a vandalized Jewish cemetery.
Brinkley’s complaint noted that Greitens’ campaign received contributions well above the threshold of federal contribution limits and suggested that the mailer’s funding may not have complied with federal requirements.
The FEC notified then-Gov.-elect Greitens and his campaign about two weeks later. An attorney for Greitens, Michael Adams, was given additional time by the FEC before responding to Brinkley’s complaint on Jan. 6, 2017.
Adams asked the FEC to dismiss Brinkley’s complaint, which he noted did not mention that Pence and Greitens were pictured standing next to each other, the campaign logos of Greitens and Parson, or Greitens’ position statement.
The photograph was “simply a depiction of Greitens appearing with Pence,” Adams wrote, “not an expression of support or promotion of Pence’s candidacy.”
Adams acknowledged that the juxtaposition of “VOTE NOVEMBER 8th” just above the campaign logos of Trump, Pence, Greitens and Parson “makes for a closer call.”
The report from the FEC’s First General Counsel was released last August and recommended that the commission “find reason to believe” that Greitens and his campaign violated federal election law and proposed “an investigation to learn the amounts spent on the mailer and the dates when the mailer was disseminated.”
“A portion of the mailer expressly advocated the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, which is federal election activity,” the report said. “Thus, the mailer should have been paid for with funds that complied with (federal) amount limitations and source prohibitions.”
Also, the report said, because “the portion of the mailer allocable to Trump and Pence” appeared to cost more than $250, it should have been but was not reported as an independent expenditure. And because the contribution appears to have come so close to the election, they should have been reported within 24 hours – another probable violation, according to the attorneys’ first report.
The Second Report
A second report, dated Feb. 8, noted that Greitens’ campaign had received more than $1.8 million through October 2016 in contributions that could have legally been given to a federal campaign. And the mailer “almost certainly cost less than the amount of federally permissible funds” in Greitens’ campaign account.
The second report agreed with the notion that the mailer’s advertising on behalf of the Trump-Pence ticket appeared to be a violation of at least one federal reporting requirement and said it was “possible, if not likely,” that the committee may have had to do so within 24 or 48 hours.
The commission acknowledged it did not know exactly how much the mailer cost but decided “this mailing does not merit the use of the Commission’s resources.” This conclusion was reached in part because Greitens for Missouri already reported its expenditures to the Missouri Ethics Commission.
And, the commission said, the mailer’s primary purpose was to boost Greitens, not Pence or Trump.
Despite the recommendation from its general counsel’s office, the commission voted 2 to 3 to find reason to believe that Greitens and his campaign violated several federal election laws.
However, a second vote failed to dismiss the allegations. Even though a majority of three of the five commissioners voted to dismiss, it would have taken at least four votes for the FEC to approve a motion like this.
The three commissioners voting in Greitens’ favor are Republicans, according to the FEC. One of the candidates voting against him, in line with the attorney’s recommendation, is a Democrat, and the other is an independent.
The commission then unanimously voted to close the case and notify the parties.
An FEC spokeswoman told the News-Leader that the three commissioners who voted against the recommendations will be required to issue reasons “providing the basis for their rejection of the recommendation.”
These rationales will become part of the public record, the spokeswoman said, but it’s unclear when that might happen because “there is no particular deadline.”
(Read the original story shared by the Springfield News-Leader here.)