Editorial: Gov. Eric Greitens makes risky wager on dark money donations


Last December, the Osage Nation of Oklahoma wrote two checks to the Committee for a New Missouri, the dark money nonprofit set up to help pay for Gov. Eric Greitens’ January inauguration.

The donations — first revealed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch — totaled $52,700.

The tribe wanted a good relationship with the incoming governor, its leader said. Oh, and Osage Nation operates seven gaming casinos in Oklahoma and just might be interested in building another facility in Missouri.

That facility would need the approval of Missouri’s governor. Under existing federal law, he must conclude a casino would be “in the best interest of the Indian tribe and its members” for the application to move forward.

The story clearly demonstrates why it’s so important to know where political money is coming from. If the tribe proceeds with its Missouri casino effort — and Greitens gives his approval — we can all fairly decide whether his judgment was influenced by the contribution.

Yet we know of the inaugural donation only because the Osage Nation made it public, and a newspaper wrote the story.

To date, the governor and his enablers have rejected all requests to reveal the other sources of his inaugural funds or the contributors to a related dark money outfit now engaged in a bitter feud with some Republicans in the legislature.

The governor deeply misunderstands a basic principle of transparent government. In a recent interview, he compared secret political money with the secret ballot.

“When people go in and they vote, nobody calls that dark voting,” the governor said.

Yikes. The secret ballot is acceptable, governor, because all votes are equal. On Election Day, the poorest Missourian has as much power as St. Louis billionaire Rex Sinquefield.

But not all political contributions are created equal. A $1 million or $2 million donation means more to an elected official than a $5 contribution or no donation at all.

The big contributor buys access. He or she buys votes in the legislature or perhaps the governor’s veto pen. Maybe big donations can buy a casino, or a big electricity rate hike, or a government contract.

That’s why transparency matters in matters of politics and money. And that’s why dark money nonprofits are a clear and present danger to self-government and must be resisted at every opportunity.

It’s fashionable for some politicians to claim money is the same thing as speech and say it should be unrestricted and anonymous under the First Amendment. Let’s be clear: If the Osage Nation wanted to spend $50,000 praising Gov. Greitens or boosting a casino campaign it would have the right to do so.

That isn’t what happened here. The tribe gave money to a committee affiliated with a governor who has a regulatory impact on the tribe’s affairs. And the governor wanted to keep that donation secret.

In 2010, former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia understood what that meant. Without public political disclosure, he wrote, “democracy is doomed.”

We concur. We hope the governor and Missouri lawmakers can join in that opinion.

Source