DAVID ROSMAN: Stay tuned to soap opera known as Missouri politics

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David Rosman

David Rosman David Rosman is an editor, writer and professional speaker. You can read more of his commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.com.

As with many of you, I had been waiting with bated breath for the outcome of the Missouri legislative special session. Would they impeach Gov. Eric Greitens? Would they sanction him? Would they do nothing?

I was beginning to outline a review of the Missouri impeachment process and a commentary about Greitens' response to the requests for his appearance before the House impeachment committee. I was hoping to follow the impeachment process to its conclusion.

But no. The governor had to ruin it all by taking the Richard Nixon way out, resigning on Friday. How dare he.

This is my current understanding:

Greitens and news organizations from the New York Times to the blog site Progressive Secular Humanist have focused on his sexual improprieties before he became governor. There is still the question on whether the Jackson County (Kansas City) Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker will refile charges of invasion of privacy and computer tampering case against Greitens after St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner dropped the charges.

But the sexual improprieties and subsequence computer tampering are only one aspect of the legal problems Greitens finds himself in. Greitens is not out of the woods yet. The ERG Defense Fund will come into play in the coming weeks as the House committee continues its investigation and if charges are refiled by the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney.

I believe the true reason for his resignation has to do with Greitens' relationship with his three non-profits, The Mission Continues, A New Missouri Inc. and ERG Defense Fund, and receiving "dark money" to his political campaign.

Charitable non-profits that fall under the IRS 501(c)(3) designation cannot contribute money to a political candidate but they may advocate for a political position, such as abortion or gun rights. The Mission Continues is a 501(c)(3).

ERG Defense Fund is a 527 political organization. A 527 organization as a "group is created primarily to influence the selection, nomination, election, appointment or defeat of candidates to federal, state or local public office." These are sometimes called Political Action Committees or PACs. We can add in here the legal defense of a candidate or politician. Though there is no limit on the size of donations, the donor list must be available for periodic filings.

Dark money is not a new phenomenon. "Dark Money is funds given to nonprofit organizations — … include 501(c)(4) (social welfare) … groups — that can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals, and unions, and spend funds to influence elections, but are not required to disclose their donors." A New Missouri is 501(c)(4) corporation. Greitens' 2016 campaign took approximately $6 million routed through his PAC. This allowed his donors to remain hidden from the FEC and IRS filings.

The current problems are three-fold for our former governor. First, there is the case of the governor's campaign acquiring a list of donors his 501(c)(3) charity, The Mission Continues, without their knowledge or consent. The Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney and the federal government still can look into the situation along with the House committee during this special session.

As of this writing, the House hearings for the week have been postponed, but that does not preclude that they will not continue.

The second is the use of a telephone app that erases text messages as soon as they are read and whether this violated the state's record retention laws. It appears the governor and 19 of his staffers used the Confide app on their government-issued telephones after Greitens took office. This is a private lawsuit filed by two St. Louis attorneys concerning the state's record retention laws.

The third is the use of dark money in the Missouri political process. Missouri is still the one of the only states without a comprehensive election donation reform law — ethics laws — concerning the amount of money that can be donated to political candidates and by whom. Elected officials still can be bought by wealthy donors through dark money conduits.

Our new governor, Mike Parson, has a unique opportunity to establish comprehensive ethics reform in Missouri as it concerns dark money. The problem will be if the major donors — Republican and Democrat — would be willing to back such reforms in our next legislative session. Will there be a state senator or representative brave enough to introduce the bill?

Will the reality show of Eric R. Greitens continue through 2018 with legal proceedings? Or will he become the "Teflon Governor," with nothing sticking to him as the investigations conclude? Stay tuned to this soap opera known as Missouri politics.

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer and professional speaker. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and InkandVoice.com.

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