JEFFERSON CITY — A Kansas City-based political nonprofit called Liberty Alliance USA has not filed registration paperwork with the Missouri attorney general’s office, the state’s chief law enforcement agency said in response to an open records request by the Post-Dispatch.
Missouri law requires most charities to file paperwork with the attorney general’s office. Despite not doing so, the Liberty Alliance was soliciting donations on its website as of Monday.
Asked why the nonprofit had not filed paperwork, Chris Vas, the alliance’s executive director, responded in an email with a one-sentence statement: “We are in full compliance with the law.”
The lack of registration caught the attention of Elad Gross, a Democrat running for Missouri attorney general. On Friday, after receiving the same information from the office as the Post-Dispatch, Gross asked Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican, to investigate Liberty Alliance.
“Either they are a nonprofit organization and are required to register, or they are not a nonprofit organization, (and) they are not required to register — but that means they are fraudulently soliciting donations because they say that they are a nonprofit,” Gross said.
On Monday, Gross received an email from the attorney general’s office consumer protection division asking him to fill out an online form.
The office told the Post-Dispatch it investigates credible complaints from charity donors, and that organizations raising money for charitable purposes need to register with the state. The office did not comment on the Liberty Alliance situation specifically.
Gross and Schmitt will likely face each other in the November 2020 general election.
The Liberty Alliance has spread a conservative message on social media since mid-August.
On Aug. 15, a squadron of alliance supporters sent tongues wagging at the annual Governor’s Ham Breakfast at the State Fair in Sedalia, where they handed out paper fans with a “Don’t Tread on MO” emblem printed on them.
“We are committed to fighting the reckless embrace of Socialism in Missouri and believe that true Conservatism is fundamental to ensuring opportunity for the next generation of our state,” the alliance says on its website. “Our goal is to bring people together under a shared cause to help shape the future of Missouri for decades to come.”
Missouri law allows the attorney general to issue civil investigative demands to charities he suspects of acting illegally. Schmitt can also ask for an injunction barring unlawful activity.
The Missouri Charitable Organizations and Solicitations Law requires most organizations doing “business in this state or hold(ing) property in this state for any charitable purpose” to register with the attorney general’s office.
Among other things, the attorney general’s office asks for a charity’s banking information, a list of its officers, and whether those officers have felony convictions. The head of a charity attests to the information under penalty of perjury.
There are exemptions for who has to file: religious institutions, schools, hospitals, campaign accounts, social groups and groups classified under sections 501(c)(3), 501(c)(7) or 501(c)(8) of the federal tax code.
Records the Liberty Alliance filed with the secretary of state show it is owned by Cornerstone 1791, a 501(c)(4) organization, which is allowed to engage in political activity but does not have to reveal its donors. Donations to such groups are generally not tax deductible, according to the IRS.
Secretary of state records say Cornerstone 1791 was formed on Feb. 13.
Like Liberty Alliance, Cornerstone 1791 has not filed paperwork with the attorney general, the office said on Friday.
The Liberty Alliance is tied to an ecosystem of Republican-aligned money with murky origins.
The registered agent for Cornerstone 1791 is Eddie Greim, the law partner of Todd Graves, who is the former chairman of the Missouri GOP. Also listed on paperwork is Kristen Ansley, who was acting director of the state party as recently as March 2017.
Graves has led a political action committee, Fair Missouri, which received $200,000 from state party coffers as Graves’ term as party chairman expired in January. The transfer frustrated party leaders, who tightened financial controls.
Current state party leadership claims no ties to the Liberty Alliance.
Jean Evans, the party’s executive director, said in a statement last week the Missouri GOP “remains the only organization in the state dedicated to promoting the conservative cause and electing Republicans from the courthouse to the White House.”