War Hero Gubernatorial Candidate Faces Formidable Foe in the IRS

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110325-G-5709T-028-Ethics Forum, Eric Greitens / US Coast Guard Academy

October 11, 2016; St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Eric Greitens is the Republican nominee for governor of Missouri after winning the Republican primary in August 2016. Greitens is a former Rhodes Scholar and Navy SEAL (Bronze Star and Purple Heart are among his military awards). He founded The Mission Continues in 2007 after leaving military service. A primary initiative of The Mission Continues is to offer six-month “Fellowships” to post-9/11 veterans to volunteer at nonprofit or community organizations of their choice. Greitens stepped down as CEO of The Mission Continues in July 2014 and resigned from the board of directors in 2015.

David Lieb, writing for the Associated Press, reports that in potential violation of federal law, Greitens asked The Mission Continues donors to support his campaign.

Financial records analyzed by the Associated Press show Greitens has received nearly $2 million from donors who previously gave significant amounts to The Mission Continues—an overlap that was especially beneficial during the crucial startup of his campaign.

A separate Excel spreadsheet obtained by the AP suggests that correlation is no coincidence.

The spreadsheet, labeled “All donors $1K total and up—as of 5-7-14,” shows the names, email addresses and phone numbers of people who gave at least $1,000 to The Mission Continues.

Its properties show it was created by a Mission Continues employee May 6, 2014, shortly before Greitens stepped down as CEO, and was last saved March 24, 2015, by Michael Hafner, who had been working for Greitens’ gubernatorial exploratory committee.

Greitens denies any coordination with or intentionally soliciting the donors of The Mission Continues. Greitens does acknowledge raising money from donors who had become his friends over time: “We were calling people who had become friends and gotten to know me over the course of seven years, who invested in The Mission Continues, and got to know me as a leader.”

NPQ has reported on the ambiguities inherent in the IRS guidelines on “The Restriction of Political Campaign Intervention by Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations.” And we would want to give a war hero such as Greitens the benefit of the doubt. But politics is anything but forgiving.

Greitens received nearly 14 percent of his money from donors who previously gave at least $1,000 to The Mission Continues or who are tied to businesses and foundations that did. Of the more than $525,000 he raised during an initial two-month period in 2015, about 85 percent of it came from donors who previously gave to The Mission Continues.

Greitens received a PhD from Oxford, created a renowned charity doing good work with veterans, and served as a White House Fellow. Greitens is currently a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy Reserve after being deployed four times to Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether he can now survive Missouri politics and the never-ending vagaries of IRS rules remains to be seen.—James Schaffer