By Jack Suntrup
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced Thursday that his office had opened an inquiry into The Mission Continues, the charity Gov. Eric Greitens founded in 2007 and left in 2014.
"The Attorney General's Office has an open inquiry into the charitable activities of The Mission Continues, pursuant to the AGO's enforcement responsibilities under the consumer protection and charitable registration and reporting laws," Loree Anne Paradise, Hawley's deputy chief of staff, said in an email to the Post-Dispatch.
Questions about Greitens' ties to his former charity have swirled since October 2016, when the Associated Press reported that Greitens, a Republican, had raised more than $2 million for his campaign from donors or entities that had also given significant amounts to The Mission Continues.
The AP obtained a charity donor list and reported then that the charity sharing the list could have violated laws that bar 501(c)(3) organizations from taking sides in elections.
In October 2016, then-Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, also raised legal questions about Greitens' ties to the charity.
"If there has been coordination between the Mission Continues and the Greitens campaign, that would be troubling," Koster said then.
Laura L'Esperance, spokeswoman for The Mission Continues, said Thursday that she was unaware of any investigation by Hawley's office but that the charity would cooperate. She also said it was charity policy not to share such materials for outside purposes.
She did not directly answer whether she thought Greitens or any of his associates may have stolen the donor list in question.
"You'd have to ask the Greitens campaign," she said. "I can't speculate or won't speculate. We did not give, rent, sell that list to any campaign or anyone connected to the campaign."
Greitens' attorney, James Bennett, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Austin Chambers, Greitens' former campaign manager, also did not immediately return a phone call Thursday afternoon.
In October 2016, Greitens denied using the list as he was locked in a heated campaign with Koster for the state's top office.
"No, we were not working off of a Mission Continues donor list," Greitens said at the time.
But Democrats pounced after the AP report, filing a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission that said that Greitens received an in-kind contribution without reporting it.
By April 2017, after winning 51 percent of the vote and assuming office, Greitens changed his tune. In a settlement with the commission, he acknowledged that the campaign did receive a donor list and did not report it on disclosure forms.
As part of the settlement, the Greitens campaign revised its filings to show that former campaign manager Danny Laub donated the list on March 1, 2015, as an in-kind contribution.
The campaign was fined $1,000 but was required to pay only $100 to the ethics commission.
Greitens has never said how Laub obtained the list.
On Monday, the Post-Dispatch reported that one of Greitens' employees, Krystal Taylor, emailed the donor list to Laub and another staffer, Michael Hafner, on Jan. 6, 2015, nearly two months earlier than the campaign had said.
Taylor, according to a LinkedIn profile that appears to have been deactivated, said she worked at The Mission Continues until May 2014 -- the same month the donor list was created, according to the AP.
On Thursday, the Kansas City Star reported that Hafner is cooperating with an investigation by the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office, a further indication that Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner also is interested in Greitens' ties to the St. Louis-based charity.
Hafner's attorney Jeffrey Ernst said he would have no comment on Gardner's ongoing investigation.
Since Monday, Greitens' ties to his former charity have come further into focus. After the Post-Dispatch report, New York Times reporter Ben Casselman tweeted that he was placed on a Mission Continues email list after donating to the charity in 2011 or 2012, but started receiving emails separate from the charity as Greitens prepared to launch his political career.
Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger reported Thursday on a similar situation, in which a high school student in 2010 signed up for the charity's email list and began receiving emails from Greitens as the future governor began his political career.
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