JEFFERSON CITY • Faith Miller says she enjoyed her time on Eric Greitens’ 2016 campaign for governor. But that’s about all she will say.
“I had a good experience,” she said, “and I was told I really can’t say much more beyond that.”
Over the last several weeks, the Post-Dispatch and the Columbia Missourian attempted to contact about 60 people who worked on Greitens’ 2016 campaign. Of the handful who agreed to speak with reporters, five people said they signed nondisclosure agreements. Two others, including Miller, who is now 19, would not say whether they signed one.
The newspapers were told that the use of nondisclosure agreements, or NDAs, on the Greitens campaign was widespread — and workers as low-ranking as volunteers may have been asked to sign them. Now, Missouri’s governor is fending off scandals on multiple fronts, and some say the agreements may slow the release of information about how Greitens operated during the campaign.
One former campaign associate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said the agreements — and implicit threats from Greitens’ current allies — have created a “chilling effect” for those who may have information to share publicly.
He said former campaign staffers “almost feel like this could be a muzzle preventing them from talking about their experience working for Eric,” the person said. “To go on the record, talking about their experience, even though it [may have been] positive, they could run the risk of being in breach of this contract.”
Robert Carr, a professor of ethics and Congress at George Washington University, said in an email that nondisclosure agreements are generally not enforceable if the person is being asked to conceal illegal activity.
“Yet, the threat of being sued and the expense of defending such a suit, even if the plaintiff is unsuccessful, might extract a price too high so as to be disincentive to disclose,” he said.
Such confidentiality agreements are not uncommon in politics, especially if the staffer is entrusted to handle information that could be used against the candidate for whom they work. An official who worked on former Democratic Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s 2016 gubernatorial bid said that NDAs were used on that campaign as well.
Austin Chambers, Greitens’ former campaign manager who now leads the Greitens-allied group A New Missouri, said former Greitens volunteers or staffers could speak publicly if the campaign gives prior approval.
“This is standard operating procedure for campaigns,” he said in an email.
But it has not always been this way, said Mark McKinnon, a Democrat-turned-Republican political consultant who has worked for U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former President George W. Bush.
“NDAs are a relatively new phenomenon,” he said in an email, “which is just more evidence of the madness of modern campaigns, culture and media.
“They suggest a certain level of insecurity and fear.”
A second former Greitens associate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the NDAs have proven to be a useful tool for Greitens, who is focused on preserving his brand as a conservative outsider and family man.
“You’re dealing with a guy who was obviously extremely protective of his image,” the former staffer said. “It goes into the narrative that this guy, you know, is always looking for the next thing, and he’s proven that he’s doing that in a very secretive manner.”
This is not the first time nondisclosure agreements in Greitens’ world have made news. In October 2016, former campaign worker Michael Hafner declined to speak with an Associated Press reporter about the campaign’s use of a donor list from The Mission Continues, the veterans charity Greitens founded in 2007, citing a nondisclosure agreement he had signed.
After the 2016 election, the Post-Dispatch reported the governor-elect required members of his transition team to sign a confidentiality agreement.
The two-page document said that failing to comply with its 17 requirements “may result in dismissal from the transition team and that other sanctions may be imposed as appropriate.”
The Post-Dispatch in December asked the governor’s office whether any current or prospective employees had been asked to sign nondisclosure agreements. Sarah Madden, special counsel for the governor, said no one has been asked to sign an agreement since Greitens took office.
Still, the Greitens team has at times operated opaquely. Parker Briden, the governor’s taxpayer-paid spokesman, routinely does not return requests for comment from reporters. The office has slow-walked the release of information such as Greitens’ daily schedule.
Other state officeholders have taken note. In December, Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, launched an investigation into the governor’s use of the text message-deleting cellphone application Confide.
In a report issued last week, Hawley said he was not able to determine any wrongdoing. Greitens staffers told investigators they did not use the app for substantive public business, and because the app deleted the messages, there was no way to determine how accurate those statements were, Hawley said.
Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, said Greitens’ administration obstructed her recent audit of the Department of Revenue’s processing of state tax returns. Her spokeswoman said that the office does not currently believe Greitens violated a law barring agencies from preventing employees from speaking with the auditor.
The auditor “has seen unprecedented obstruction involving state agencies,” Steph Deidrick said. “However, at this time, we are not aware of any directive that would violate the statute.”
John B. Simpson, a Charlottesville, Va., attorney who specializes in employment matters, said the decision to violate a confidentiality agreement comes down to how much someone wants to risk being taken to court — and the likelihood that an employer would sue.
“Without talking, they’re concealing the truth, which somebody has the right to that,” he said in an interview. “It’s kind of a moral question. It’s an individual thing — how much do I take on? There’d be all kinds of factors at play there.”
Campaign worker Shane Loewenstein, 20, said signing an NDA was no big deal.
“Working in the actual headquarters early on as an intern, I mean I had no problem doing it,” he said.
Audrey Dunn, who now lives in California and still works on campaigns, agreed.
“It’s procedure, so every campaign that you’re going to be on does it,” she said. “The campaign is like a job, and anything you go into you’re going to sign something.”
Another worker, Gage Teel, a senior at the University of Missouri-Columbia studying political science, said his nondisclosure agreement lasts until 2024. He said he started on the campaign as an intern but eventually rose to regional field director in the campaign’s Columbia office.
“I could have sworn when we first started, everyone had to sign it no matter if you were a volunteer or a full-blown staffer,” he said. “Later I think we shifted our policy to where only people who were actually working and getting paid on the campaign had to sign one.”
He said having volunteers sign one was “unnecessary.”
“They’re not going to know anything about general campaign strategy so they’re probably clueless to that aspect,” he said.
He said the agreement he signed allows the campaign to sue him if he says too much.
“But the truth is, I don’t think I know anything that would really be even damning to the campaign,” Teel said. “I was the low man on the totem pole.”
Editor’s note: This article was produced in collaboration with the Columbia Missourian. Missourian reporters Kathryn Hardison, Kaitlin Washburn, Stephanie Sandoval, Ellen Cagle, Brendan Crowley, Katie Parkins, Daphne Psaledakis and Tyler Wornell contributed, along with Missourian editor Mark Horvit.