Unless he appeals, St. Louis lawyer Elad Gross’ lawsuit against the A New Missouri organization is over.
Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem granted the organization’s motion to dismiss the case, ruling Tuesday that Gross “failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” and didn’t show he had the legal standing to file the suit.
A New Missouri is a not-for-profit organization founded last year to support then-Gov. Eric Greitens and his initiatives.
It’s labeled as a 501(c)(4) organization, and operates under the federal regulations that allow it to conceal the identities of its donors — what some people, including Gross, call “dark money.”
Gross, a former assistant attorney general now in private practice, sued A New Missouri and three of its officers in June, seeking information about the group’s operations and spending records.
He told the News Tribune on Tuesday afternoon: “I respectfully disagree with the judge’s decision and will continue to fight to end the corruption in our state government. I will decide within the next few days on an appellate strategy and if there are any other steps we can take.”
However, Catherine Hanaway, a former Missouri House speaker and U.S. attorney, who now is a private practice attorney in St. Louis County and represents A New Missouri, said: “This was a silly case, and Judge Beetem appropriately dismissed it quickly.”
Gross argued in his lawsuit, and in oral arguments a month ago, that A New Missouri was created to benefit all Missourians and, therefore, “I am a beneficiary of the organization” entitled under the law to get information about the organization’s operations, income and expenses.
Gross told Beetem during the Oct. 4 hearing that he’d researched several issues about the law’s creation in 1994 — including interviews with several former lawmakers who helped write it.
“A New Missouri is the kind of organization that this statute was written for,” he told Beetem.
However, Hanaway told Beetem last month that Gross had “to show that he has had some particularized harm, that he has some special reason to be before this court that is unique to him and not just to the general public.”
The judge agreed with Hanaway.
“To seek records” under the state law Gross used, Beetem wrote in a two-page judgment, Gross “must either be a member, have the rights of a member or be a resident of a class of residents who has paid into A New Missouri Inc. for services or other charges over 50 percent of A New Missouri Inc.’s operating expenses.”
However, the judge noted, Gross already argued the organization “has no members,” and he “failed to plead he is a resident of a class of residents.”
Beetem also ruled Gross couldn’t sue the individuals he’d named as defendants, because the law Gross used as the basis for his lawsuit “applies only to nonprofit corporations. Nowhere does it provide a cause of action against an individual.”
Gross said Tuesday, “The law was intended to make all nonprofit organizations accountable to the public they serve. But (the) ruling allows dark money organizations to avoid any transparency while taking taxpayer benefits. I think that’s wrong.”
Hanaway countered: “No matter how much Elad Gross likes to think he enjoys some special status, he does not under the law. He cannot invade the financial records A New Missouri.”