JEFFERSON CITY – A private university says it is looking into whether grant money was misused after a former political aide for embattled Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens said he got paid from grant funds to promote one of Greitens' books as he simultaneously helped launch Greitens' gubernatorial campaign.
Washington University in St. Louis became aware of potential issues with the grant after the aide's testimony was released as part of a legislative investigation into various allegations against the Republican governor, who already is facing felony charges related to an extramarital affair and the misuse of charity resources for political purposes.
"As a grantee, we take accountability seriously. We are looking into the matter to ensure the funds were used appropriately," said Julie Flory, the university's assistant vice chancellor for campus communications.
Greitens' spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
A report released Wednesday by a legislative panel included testimony from former Greitens' aide Danny Laub, who said he was paid both by Greitens and a nonprofit grant in early 2015 to simultaneously promote Greitens' political aspirations and the release of his book "Resilience."
The book's acknowledgment section states that it was "generously supported" by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation's Character and Virtue Development program. Washington University administered the grant for the foundation, which is based in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.
The grant agreement for the Templeton Foundation specifically prohibits the use of funds "to influence the outcome of any specific public election," Michael Murray, the foundation's senior vice president for programs, said Friday.
Washington University's policies also prohibit grant funds from being used for campaign activities, Flory said.
Federal law bars 501(c)(3) charities from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of candidates.
Exactly how much Greitens and his aides were paid from the grant remains secret. The Templeton Foundation and Washington University both declined to release a copy of the grant agreement to The Associated Press.
Murray said the grant supporting Greitens' work was active in 2011 and 2012 but doesn't appear on the foundation's online database of grants, because the agreement with Washington University didn't allow information about it to be publicly shared. Murray said that's not necessarily unusual, though two other grants to Washington University are listed online.
The intermingling of politics and Greitens' grant-funded book was one of a variety of ways in which Greitens was working to build his political credentials both before and after he officially formed a political fundraising committee in February 2015, according to testimony from his former aides.
Greitens already faces a felony charge in St. Louis of tampering with computer data for disclosing a donor list from The Mission Continues to his political fundraiser in 2015 without the permission of the St. Louis-based veterans charity he founded.
According to the Missouri House panel investigating Greitens, Laub testified that he was misled by another Greitens' campaign aide into becoming a fall guy when Greitens filed documents with the Missouri Ethics Commission falsely stating that Laub was the source of the charity donor list.
Greitens also faces a May 14 trial in St. Louis on an invasion of privacy indictment alleging he took and transmitted a nonconsensual photo of an at least partially nude woman in 2015. Greitens has acknowledged having a consensual affair with the woman but denied criminal wrongdoing.
The report released by the House says Laub began getting paid in December 2014 by The Greitens Group, which was Greitens' personal promotional company. He testified that his job was primarily related to Greitens impending 2016 campaign for governor and to promoting his upcoming book. The two purposes often overlapped, he said.
In July 2014, before he was officially on the payroll, Laub prepared a document for Greitens proposing to conduct a "Resilience" book tour focusing on Missouri's top 10 Republican primary counties to help build boost his political appeal. That particular tour never happened as planned, he said.
But "Leveraging the 'Resilience' book tour" was back on the agenda during a December political meeting that involved Greitens, Laub and others.
"Eric was going to do a book tour, of seeing what finance events he could set up in other cities that coincided with the book tour," Laub said in a deposition taken by the Missouri attorney general's office and shared with the House investigatory committee. "So when he was in New York or when he was in California and he was doing media hits, that he could also set up national donor meetings."
Laub testified that he and Greitens went to Washington, D.C., in January 2015 to meet with possible vendors for a political campaign, including one company that he said Greitens wanted to test out.
"The thought was to have them doing a little bit of work on his book tour to see how they performed," Laub said.
Records discussed in the deposition indicate Laub received two checks of $3,250 from Washington University in early 2015 that were funded through the Templeton Foundation grant. Laub said he knew little about the details of the grant but understood that Greitens "could spend freely on 'Resilience'-related things" from the grant funds.