Gov. Eric Greitens’ signature campaign pledge to restore ethics and clean up corruption in Jefferson City faces its biggest roadblock from the ethically challenged governor himself. His latest ploy is a case in point.
Greitens tried to stack the state school board so members would install his chosen candidate to lead Missouri schools. When that failed, he used his campaign funds to bring his favored candidate in for a visit.
This is not the first time the governor has danced around campaign ethics laws. He was fined $1,000 by the Missouri Ethics Commission in May for failing to report that his campaign had received a donor list from a charity he founded. The commission agreed to waive most of the fine if Greitens paid $100 and committed no other violations in the next two years.
Now, five months later, questions of potential violations have returned. A University of Missouri Law School professor who teaches campaign-finance law is suggesting the ethics commission should look at Greitens’ recent action. “I would put it in the category of a questionable use of campaign resources,” Richard Reuben told the Post-Dispatch’s Kurt Erickson.
No matter how vigorously Greitens’ campaign manager, Austin Chambers, defends the action, saying it is an “explicitly” permitted use of campaign contributions, the expenditure merits investigation by the ethics commission. The move had nothing to do with the campaign and was a sneaky way of bringing the job candidate in for a meet-and-greet.
The issue matters not just because of the questionable campaign expenditure but also because Greitens is encroaching on the State Board of Education’s independence.
He wants to get rid of Margie Vandeven, a respected state education commissioner with a proven record, so he can install someone blindly dedicated to a national Republican education agenda.
Under that agenda, the bulk of state and federal education revenue would be spent on school choice, not on strengthening public education. Greitens paid $1,576 out of his campaign fund to bring in Kenneth Zeff, an Atlanta school administrator and education consultant with a strong background in charter school management.
Vandeven, who has led Missouri’s education for grades K-12 since 2015, is a strong advocate for public education and has the support of the eight-member Board of Education, which selects the education commissioner and helps establish education policy.
The board was designed by lawmakers to be fairly independent and removed from partisan politics. State law says no more than four board members can be from the same political party. The governor can appoint members who share his perspective on education, but the board is not an arm of the state executive’s office.
The board’s focus is supposed to be exclusively on Missouri children and how best to serve them — not Greitens’ self-serving political agenda.