Uncertainty surrounds legal defense as a lobbyist gift from former ‘at no cost’ attorneys

Dowd Bennett exited as the defense for the Governor on a lawsuit against the Governor for using a message-deleting app to conduct state business last week, but not before they registered as lobbyists for Eric Greitens himself – while conducting a pro bono, or “at no cost,” defense.

In January 2017, after being sworn in as Missouri’s 56th Governor, Greitens went upstairs to the second-floor office and immediately signed his first order of business, an executive order barring anyone in the executive branch from receiving lobbyist gifts or becoming a lobbyist upon leaving the branch.

There are two lines in the executive order that outline the ramifications for violating it. One of the last lines reads: “This Order is intended to provide guidance for employment-related conduct and is not intended to create any right or benefit enforceable by law.” Another line reads: “Any state employee of the executive branch that violates this Order is subject to disciplinary action, up to termination of employment.”

It is unclear what the procedure is for the Governor if he, himself, were to accept lobbyist gifts, or if any part of the Governor’s executive order is enforceable.

It is also unclear to the Missouri Ethics Commission if the defense constitutes a gift or a lobbyist gift.

“I do not know,” James Klahr, executive director of Missouri Ethics Commission, said, saying that it is something the Commission could explore if there were to file a complaint.

However, the Governor, who on the campaign trail called lobbyists “snakes,” registered lobbyists for himself in February.

Two of those who registered were Ed Dowd and Jim Bennett, the naming partners of the defense firm eventually appointed by the Attorney General to defend the Governor in a lawsuit brought challenging whether the Governor and his staff could use message-deleting apps, like Confide, to conduct state business – allegedly effectively destroying generally Sunshine-able state records.

The two registered on March 3, 2018, speculatively because of the quasi-legislative intricacies of the Governor’s situation who is facing a House committee investigation, as well as investigations from the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office and Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.

With Dowd and Bennett registering as lobbyists for the Governor while providing legal services “at no cost,” questions have arisen whether the Governor violated his own and first order of business: Executive Order 17-02.

“At no cost” was not clarified by the law firm, leaving the Capitol to buzz about how much the Governor was racking up in in-kind and donated legal expenses as he faces multiple investigations ranging from allegations stemming from an affair, ethics laws, and open records laws, as it isn’t completely clear which of the seven law firms retained by the Governor and his staff are doing what.

In addition to wondering whether the Governor receiving “at no cost” legal defense constitutes a lobbyist gift, questions have also arisen as to whether office staff of the Governor’s office would be also inadvertently violating the executive order, as well, if lobbyists were to donate to the recently-created staff legal fund.

When asked, Klahr was also uncertain as to whether this would be a violation due to the unprecedented nature of the situation.

This story originally appeared on The Missouri Times.

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