SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
More secret money is finding its way into politics, this time at the state level. Perhaps even B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music, has made a contribution. Nonprofit groups have popped up around the country affiliated with the campaigns of several governors. The groups can take unlimited amounts of money and don't have to disclose their contributions either. Then, those groups promote the governor's agenda. St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum reports on how the strategy plays out in Missouri.
JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: As Republican Eric Greitens criss-crossed the state in his bid to become Missouri's governor, he emphasized how proud he was that the state's voters could see every single donation coming into his campaign treasury. In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio last year, Greitens even accused his Republican opponents of using shadowy groups to attack him and others.
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ERIC GREITENS: We've already seen other candidates set up the secretive super PACs, where they don't take any responsibility for what they're funding.
ROSENBAUM: But despite his outrage at the time, Greitens now benefits from the kind of big money secretive groups that he criticized. Earlier this year, members of Greitens campaign staff started a group called A New Missouri that's known as a 501(c)4 social welfare group. It can spend money on political activities like ads but doesn't have to disclose its donors. The group backs Greitens' agenda in the legislature.
Governors in Illinois, Arizona and Georgia also have similar groups. And New York City's mayor had one until criticism forced it to shut down. Most states don't require these politically active nonprofits to reveal much about what they're doing. When asked about the group last month, Greitens was unapologetic.
GREITENS: The organization that you're referring to is one that I have no day-to-day responsibilities with. It's an organization that's separate from the governor's office. It does represent the interests of thousands of people around the state of Missouri who care about seeing our priorities get passed.
ROSENBAUM: A New Missouri does more than produce glossy ads that boost Greitens' agenda. The group recently started running web ads attacking a member of his own party, state senator Rob Schaaf. Schaaf is sponsoring a bill that would require politically active nonprofits like A New Missouri to reveal its donors. The group's ads gave out Schaaf's personal cellphone number and told people to call him.
ROB SCHAAF: I could care less. I don't care even at all. Governor, print my cell phone number on every newspaper in the country. I don't care.
ROSENBAUM: Schaaf believes Greitens should disavow the group.
SCHAAF: It's critical that he do this. If he doesn't do this, they're just going to eventually label him as just another corrupt politician.
ROSENBAUM: Schaaf's proposal to require more disclosure from political nonprofits is opposed by most of his fellow Republicans. Gregg Keller worked for one of Greitens' GOP opponents last year and runs a similar nonprofit group called the Missouri Century Foundation. He says political donors should be able to contribute anonymously.
GREGG KELLER: And they deserve to do so without being bullied by outside individuals and organizations as is happening more and more particularly on the left these days.
ROSENBAUM: Schaaf's bill is likely to fail in the Missouri General Assembly which is dominated by Republicans. The state recently adopted contribution limits for political candidates. One effect of that new law may be spurring more politically active nonprofits, says Democratic fundraiser Angela Bingaman.
ANGELA BINGAMAN: It has definitely become more of a conversation with candidates and groups about how to import more money into the political process now that we have limitations on what we can and cannot do.
ROSENBAUM: So expect to see state-level candidates from both parties taking advantage of money from secret donors. For NPR News, I'm Jason Rosenbaum in St. Louis.
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