On Wednesday, the Missouri political world will likely be rocked yet again with the release of a House investigative report detailing salacious allegations against Gov. Eric Greitens.
The committee investigating the governor, led by Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, has heard from many of the same witnesses who testified before the St. Louis grand jury that indicted Greitens on a felony charge of invasion of privacy, for allegedly taking a photo without the consent of a semi-nude woman in his basement.
The report will garner front-page headlines and it will be a very big deal.
More lawmakers are sure to call for the governor’s resignation. It could lead to impeachment. The report will, no doubt, further sully the reputation and political career of the former Navy SEAL and Rhodes scholar.
But it will not be the most important document filed in the various cases involving the governor in the past week. At least not as it relates to the future of democracy in the state of Missouri.
On Friday, attorney Mark Pedroli filed a response to a motion to dismiss in his lawsuit against Greitens alleging the governor violated Sunshine Law and records retention laws by using the text message-destroying app Confide on his phone. Pedroli filed the lawsuit in December on behalf of the Sunshine Project and attorney Ben Sansone, after the Kansas City Star revealed use of the app by the governor and his staff.
Pedroli’s motion highlights the area in which Greitens has done the most damage to good governance during his short time as governor. His penchant for secrecy is destroying confidence in the ability of voters to hold elected officials accountable.
“Shred early and often, say Defendants, because Missourians don’t have standing to bring a Sunshine claim if the Custodian no longer possesses the records,” wrote Pedroli in his motion responding to Greitens’ second attempt to dismiss the lawsuit. “Setting aside the propriety of the State of Missouri, by and through the Office of Governor, asserting such an abhorrent argument, Defendants are wrong.
“Call it a political affair, but also according to the Defendants, the Governor and Office of Governor can destroy whatever public documents they want, without ramification, so long as the Office of Governor is fortunate enough to have an Attorney General Office (“AGO”) willing to look the other way. Defendants claim only the AGO can enforce the law when the Governor’s Office destroys public records that should have been retained. Defendants’ legal arguments are not just abhorrent to Missouri law, public policy, and Missouri’s efforts to aspire to a more transparent government, but Defendants arguments present an existential threat to Missouri’s entire document retention and Sunshine regime.”
Greitens’ embrace of secrecy is about much more than a text messaging app.
It goes to the heart of how he was elected.
The man who promised to “blow up” Jefferson City and bring a new transparency and ethical standard to Missouri politics instead did the exact opposite. He raised campaign money through a series of secretive nonprofits that don’t allow voters to know who is seeking to influence the governor.
The few donors who participated in that scheme who have been found out through other means tell a story of influence peddling that suggests to voters that Missouri’s government is for sale. One donor to the governor’s secretive inaugural committee was Ameren Missouri, the investor-owned monopoly utility company that already got a significant return on its dark-money investment. Greitens called a special session to try to change state law making it easier for Ameren to raise its rates. Another donor, the Oklahoma-based Osage Nation, a Native American tribe, is seeking to bring a casino to Missouri, and now has hired the very lobbyist, Steve Tilley, whom Greitens disparaged as unethical during his campaign.
Other donors, too, are likely seeking to influence public policy, but we can’t know because they gave money through secret channels, and were, perhaps, protected from public disclosure by government officials using text-destroying software.
It may well be the governor’s propensity for cheating on his wife that destroys his political career, but it is his belief that he should be allowed to place a blindfold on Missouri voters so they cannot see what he is doing as he governs that will leave a lasting mark.
With his secret texts and dark money schemes, Greitens is saying to the voters who elected him that he believes he is above the law. Don’t let him get away with it, Pedroli argues before Cole County Circuit Court Jon Beetem.
Shred early and shred often is nothing but a recipe for bad government.