Former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens’ office parted ways with speechwriter and communications advisor Jimmy Soni in spring of 2017, just as Soni was coming under renewed fire over past sexual harassment allegations. But the two didn’t stay apart for long. Public records show Soni continued to be paid for work by Greitens’ campaign, even as accusations of the former governor’s own sexual misconduct began to catch up with him.
After being elected to office in 2016, Greitens hired Soni as part of his transition team, then as a full-time communications advisor. The appointment, which drew ire from prominent Missouri Democrats, was well publicized, but appeared to be short lived. Less than six months later, spokesman Parker Briden said in a statement that Soni was no longer working for the governor’s office.
In total, Soni was paid about $43,000 by the State of Missouri for his work in the governor’s office. But after leaving, he continued to earn an average of about $2,000 per month for Greitens-related work. Between August 2017 and March 2018, Soni received a total of $18,000 from Greitens for Missouri for “communications consulting.”
Soni and Greitens’ close history extends far beyond the boundaries of Greitens’ stint as governor. Both studied at Duke University - Greitens graduated in 1996 and Soni in 2007 - and frequently appear together in the school’s lists of active alumni. In the preface to his 2011 book “The Heart and the Fist,” Greitens thanks Soni alongside his father, brother and future wife. And, on a site for Duke alumni, Jimmy Soni’s brief profile touts his role on an advisory board for The Mission Continues, the veteran aid charity Greitens cofounded.
Sexual harassment allegations against Soni focus on his time at The Huffington Post. Soni began work directly under Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington as the site’s managing editor in 2011. This, reports from the time suggest, is when rumors about Soni’s conduct with women employees began to spread.
Particularly in question was Soni’s treatment of “editorial fellows”, employees hired by The Huffington Post on a temporary basis to perform basic tasks, like writing breaking news stories and monitoring social media for coming trends. A 2014 report from Gawker says Soni once jokingly said of the program, “I’m using it to find myself a wife.”
A past editorial fellow who was in the role during Soni’s tenure told KBIA she and her colleagues often felt singled out and embarrassed by Soni’s comments about their appearance and frequent requests for dates. She said this problem was exacerbated by Soni’s high rank and profile within the publication, which made some fellows feel obligated to date him. In other reports, women describe unwanted late-night phone calls, messages and emails from Soni, frequently of a romantic or sexual nature.
“We felt trapped,” the woman, who asked not to be named, said. “If we wanted to be asked back [to The Huffington Post], we had to just listen.”
Accusations like these sparked an internal investigation into Soni’s conduct in 2014. By the end of the year, he had left the publication and its parent company AOL. In separate statements, Soni and representatives of AOL both said he needed the time to finish work on his first book.
Less than a year later, former Missouri governor Eric Greitens was allegedly engaging in sexual misconduct himself. Friday, Special Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced she would not be pursuing felony invasion of privacy charges against Greitens that came as a result of his allegedly violent and intrusive conduct in a 2015 affair. Amid these and other accusations, Greitens resigned last week.
When Soni began to draw checks from Greitens for Missouri in 2017 for “communications consulting,” the campaign already maintained its own communications efforts. It also had a relationship with a prominent political communications firm that specializes in digital media, Soni’s primary area of expertise.
Soni’s consulting may have continued past March. Campaigns like Greitens for Missouri are only required to disclose spending once every three months, so the full extent of Soni’s involvement with Greitens since April won’t be public until the end of this month.
KBIA reached out to Greitens for Missouri and Soni for comment earlier this week. So far, neither have responded.