COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens is keeping $1 million in campaign donations from a California venture capitalist accused of sexual abuse, even though fellow Republican and presidential candidate John Kasich's super PAC is giving a contribution from the same donor to charities that fight human trafficking.
Greitens defended that decision during a GOP debate Thursday following criticism from all three of his Republican opponents and the top Democratic contender, who are calling on Greitens to return the money.
One opponent, Catherine Hanaway, a former Republican House speaker and U.S. attorney, slammed Greitens during the debate for not taking the word of "an abused woman."
"Powerful men always try to suppress their voices," Hanaway said to Greitens in front of a studio audience of hundreds. "You should allow this woman's voice to be heard."
Greitens in response called Hanaway "just another career politician desperate to run for office who's willing to convict people in the court of public opinion."
"That's wrong," said Greitens, a former Navy SEAL officer whose campaign earlier this week said the legal process needs to "run its course."
The contribution is from prominent financier of tech startups, Michael Goguen, who was sued in California last week by a woman alleging that he sexually abused her for more than a decade. She says he agreed to pay her $40 million in compensation for the abuse and then only gave her $10 million.
Goguen, who recently left the firm of Sequoia Capital, denies the allegations, saying through his attorney Diane Doolittle that they are a "vile collection of lies" aimed at destroying his reputation.
Speaking to reporters after the debate, Greitens said Goguen attended a fundraiser he held this week in California.
Greitens faces a crowded August primary against suburban St. Louis businessman John Brunner, Hanaway, and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder. Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster also is running for the state's top executive seat.
Greitens, a former Navy SEAL officer, had about $3.4 million in cash to spend on his campaign as of the end of last year, which includes the Goguen donations, based on the most recent campaign finance reports available.
But Ohio Gov. John Kasich's presidential super PAC New Day for America has taken a different tack on donations from Goguen.
Connie Wehrkamp, a spokeswoman for the PAC, said Thursday that it will donate the $250,000 Goguen gave Kasich to charities that are "committed to ending human trafficking."
Kinder similarly blasted Greitens for keeping the donation and praised the action by Kasich's super PAC to donate it as "the honorable, standup thing."
He also criticized Greitens for speaking against corruption while at the same time accepting Goguen's donations.
Greitens responded with a jab at Kinder, saying he's the "last person on this stage, sir, who should be trafficking about tabloid stories." He referenced Kinder's admission during his 2012 campaign for lieutenant governor that he frequented an Illinois strip club in the 1990s while serving in the state Senate.
Brunner in a statement earlier Thursday called on Greitens to return the money but did not bring it up during the debate.