There was a time when my wife taught 7th and 8th grade English at a Catholic school in Missouri’s state capital, Jefferson City. Judy was so good at it that for many years, when we’d encounter her former pupils or their parents, she would be told how the grounding she provided in language skills meant so much in later life to those who had her for a teacher.
Some of them went on to become professionals in various fields, and in one case, a university English professor. One of her better students, now a lawyer, was in the news recently in Missouri: State Rep. Jay Barnes, a Republican, who chaired the special committee that investigated Gov. Eric Greitens.
Barnes was known as Jason Barnes when he undertook Judy’s capstone writing assignment in the 8th grade. Each student had to write and illustrate a children’s book, that she would edit and grade. I can still see her laboring long hours over a Christmas vacation, reading through stacks of something like fifty books. At the end of the assignment, the student author would be responsible for reading the finished book to a child in one of the lower grades.
I like to think that Judy’s writing assignment might have helped Barnes in some small way with a 25-page paper he recently filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission. The paper is entitled “Complaint against Greitens for Missouri, and A New Missouri, Inc. for violations of Missouri Campaign Finance Law.” Barnes’ paper is clear in its writing and spare in its word usage, delivering facts with names, dates and evidence. It’s a well-organized treatise. The conclusion any reader would reach after going through it, is that when Greitens ran for governor in 2016 he violated the law.
The law requires that once someone decides to run for public office, begins hiring people and organizing a campaign, that candidate has to form a public campaign committee so people aren’t kept in the dark. According to Barnes’ findings, Greitens didn’t do that. At the same time, the people who staffed Greitens’ campaign were careful to keep secret the identities of donors who gave him millions of dollars through shadowy third party storefronts. Reading Barnes’ well-reasoned complaint, one concludes that Greitens put together a well-organized sneak attack on Missouri’s political system.
Among the names in Barnes’s report is Nick Ayers, now chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence. According to the complaint, at the time Ayers was giving advice to Greitens’ campaign, money was being solicited from “restricted donors” whose contributions were funneled through nonprofit organizations that didn’t have to disclose who was behind the money. The complaint also reports that an entity named “LG PAC” spent more than $4 million in 2016 on ads attacking Greitens’ political opponents. It also reported Greitens’ campaign received nearly $2 million from a group called SEALs for Truth. According to Barnes’ complaint, based on evidence assembled by the Special House Investigating Committee that he chaired, Greitens’ campaign received about $6 million from sources that were never identified.
The Missouri Ethics Commission is supposed to act as the voters’ watchdog in these kinds of cases, and it’s up to its members to decide what to do about Barnes’ complaint. Right now, he might be alone in his quest to get answers. Greitens resigned, and many Republicans are hoping the whole thing goes away and people forget. Who were Greitens’ big donors? Wealthy business owners who wanted him to sign the anti-union law known as ‘right to work’? Perhaps they were well-healed powerbrokers placing their bets on a man who might some day call the shots from the White House. Maybe the money came from a foreign country, seeking leverage with a future leader.
We don’t know and perhaps we never will know, depending on what the Missouri Ethics Commission can do. I can only conclude that if Barnes were back in Judy’s classroom, she’d probably give him an “A” on this paper.