ST. LOUIS — The general election campaign for Missouri governor has featured attack ads and face-to-face accusations at a debate in Branson. It turns out that in most of the claims, there’s some truth and some hyperbole.
Republican Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL officer, and two-term Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster are engaged in a spirited campaign to replace Democrat Jay Nixon, who is prohibited by term limits from seeking a third term.
Here is a fact check on some of the claims in the campaign:
GREITENS: Koster, as a state senator, voted against a bill to provide funding for medical exams for sexual assault victims.
THE FACTS: True, but with a major caveat.
Koster was one of four senators who voted against Senate Bill 583 on May 17, 2007. It passed anyway.
One section provides for state funding to pay for rape kits, meaning sexual assault victims no longer had to pay for their own examinations.
But the bill contains nearly two dozen wide-ranging provisions on a variety of issues. One section offers the possibility of early parole for inmates incarcerated for killing a spouse or domestic partner and sentenced to at least 50 years without parole. Among the criteria for parole after serving 15 years: evidence that the convicted person suffered domestic violence that was not presented at trial.
Koster said at the debate that he voted against the bill because that section could have freed convicted killers “on manufactured evidence.”
KOSTER: Greitens has profited substantially from his charitable organization, The Mission Continues. A Koster ad says Greitens used the charity “to pay himself over $700,000 in salary and bonuses.”
THE FACTS: True, but the salary was not considered out of line by at least two charity watchdog groups.
Federal tax records show that Greitens initially took no salary in 2007 and 2008 from the charity that helps veterans transition to life at home through volunteer work. After receiving a grant, Greitens was paid a total of $150,000 from mid-2009 through 2010. As contributions increased, his salary was raised to $175,000 in 2011, and he received a $25,000 bonus that year. His salary remained at that level the next two years. He resigned as CEO in 2014 as his gubernatorial campaign began.
Charity Navigator said Greitens’ salary was higher than the $131,000 median compensation for chief executives of 237 medium-sized charities in the Midwest, but not egregiously so.
Daniel Borochoff of CharityWatch said that given Greitens’ credentials, including his doctorate degree in politics from Oxford University, his salary seemed “within a reasonable range.”
GREITENS: The New York Times cited Koster as one of America’s most corrupt attorneys general.
THE FACTS: An October 2014 Times article did not call Koster corrupt. However, the story about undue influence of lobbyists on state attorneys general did focus heavily on Koster, raising the question of whether his office backed off investigations of companies after accepting gifts and campaign donations. The article specifically cited investigations of 5-Hour Energy, Pfizer and AT&T.
Koster has denied impropriety. Campaign spokesman David Turner said 45 other states also did not move forward with legal action against 5-Hour Energy, and one that did, Oregon, lost its case recently.
Turner said Koster has sued Pfizer several times and won a $22 million settlement in 2009 as part of a nationwide Medicaid fraud case. Missouri was also part of a 50-state settlement with AT&T in 2014.
A month after the Times article, Koster’s gubernatorial campaign adopted a policy of not accepting gifts from lobbyists or contributions from anyone involved in litigation with the attorney general’s office. Turner said the campaign has refunded or returned more than $115,000 since the policy was implemented.
Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said there is an “intentional separation” between the office “and any candidate committee, so that decisions are not inappropriately influenced.”
GREITENS: At a debate on Sept. 30 in Branson, and in ads, Greitens has accused Koster of spending $3.2 million to redecorate his own office.
THE FACTS: The allegation is misleading.
In 2013, lawmakers approved Koster’s request to use money recovered from consumer fraud cases to pay most of a $3.2 million renovation of an office that houses staff for the attorney general. Koster himself works in a different building. The work included replacing a ceiling, replacing carpet, improving the heating and cooling system, and addressing potential health concerns.
“We tore asbestos out of a building that was seeping water through the mold and had no windows,” Koster said at the debate.
Some critics at the time questioned whether it was a wise use of money when the state was considering cuts to higher education.