The circumstances surrounding Missouri Governor Eric Greitens’ recent appointments to the University of Missouri System’s Board of Curators are an area of concern for many Missourians. Julia Brncic and Jon Sundvold were appointed by Gov. Greitens to fill the vacancies on the System’s board on July 31. Eyebrows are particularly being raised at the appointment of Brncic, who serves as Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Express Scripts.
Express Scripts is an American Fortune 100 company headquartered in St. Louis. As the largest pharmaceutical benefit management group in the United States, the company’s 2016 revenues exceeded $100 billion. Gov. Greitens’ close ties to Express Scripts have faced a great deal of scrutiny after the Governor gave the St. Louis-based company a $250,000 no-bid contract to launch a new drug-monitoring program.
Greitens constituents and peers have questioned the legitimacy of the no-bid contract due to Greitens financial ties to the pharmaceutical company. Express Scripts gave Greitens $25,000 during his successful 2016 run for Missouri’s governorship and an additional $10,000 to fund his inauguration.
Republican State Senator Rob Schaaf publicly denounced Greitens’ relationship with Express Scripts saying, “It just has the look of impropriety about it.”
This is not the first time that Greitens’ financial dealings have been widely criticized. Greitens received one of the largest donations in the history of Missouri politics from the mysterious super PAC, “SEALS for Truth.” Even after Greitens was required to release a list of his donors, the stealthy $1.9 million contribution could only be tied to the covert “American Policy Coalition Inc” non-profit.
Greitens’ own non-profit, “A New Missouri- Inc.” recently gave the anti-union super PAC “Missourians for Worker Freedom” $250,000. The non-profit also spent over $500,000 on TV ads that will advocate for the Governor’s state budget plan amidst major spending cuts to vital Missouri programs. As a non-profit organization, “A New Missouri- Inc.” is not required to disclose the sources of their funding.
Greitens’ actions are a far cry from his early campaign promises of financial transparency. In early 2016, the Governor said politicians, “set up these secretive super PACs where they don’t take any responsibility for what they’re doing.” Greitens doubled down in the same interview saying, “I’m stepping forward and you can see every single one of our donors, because we are proud of our donors and we are proud of the campaign we are running.” Apparently, Greitens is not too proud of the anonymous donors who funnel millions of dollars into super PACs that support his cause.
Amidst these many controversies, the appointment of Julia Brncic is particularly troubling when the fragile state of the University of Missouri System is taken into consideration. The University of Missouri System includes four universities in St. Louis, Columbia, Rolla, and Kansas City. In Columbia, the University of Missouri is still reeling from protests that took place in 2015, which garnered the attention of the national media. Freshman enrollment has dropped significantly and various employees in leadership roles have resigned or been fired.
Parents, students, and faculty are looking for actions that indicate the University of Missouri System is doing their best to move in the right direction. For some, Brncic’s close ties to Eric Greitens’ scrutinized fundraising machine casts a larger shadow on the University of Missouri System’s recent turmoil. The Board of Curators will play a large role in determining whether the University of Missouri System truly turns things around in the coming months. With the recent NAACP travel ban for Missouri specifically mentioning the University of Missouri in their statement, things do not appear to be moving forward in a manner that many had hoped for.
In 2016, the Missouri electorate voted overwhelmingly to put a cap on the amount of donations that politicians could receive from various interests. Yet through completely legal channels, dark money and pay-for-play politics continues to have a disturbingly wide reach and range of influence.
The degree of significance between Brncic’s appointment to the Board of Curators and Eric Greitens’ ties to Express Scripts will be thoroughly debated, but it nonetheless deeply troubling that a lack of transparency in the political fundraising process could once again impact the quality of students’ higher education experience.
*Disclaimer- I graduated from the University of Missouri St. Louis the spring of 2017.
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