by Jon Schuessler
The Attorney General’s Office is often just a rung on the ladder of a political climb. Jay Nixon, for instance, was the Attorney General before being elected Governor. Chris Koster, the current Attorney General, says that the office is a “political title” for “the corporation of Missouri”. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Koster has chosen to run for Governor in the upcoming 2016 election.
What does surprise, however, is how openly Mr. Koster has been accepting bribes from corporations under investigation by his office, in the form of gifts and campaign donations.
The first real hint of Koster’s corrupt regime came in 2012, when State Auditor Schweich published a report upon the Attorney General’s Office. The audit cited the highly dubious practice of awarding investigative legal work to firms that had donated to his campaign. During 2011, Koster’s campaign contributions totaled $170,000 from 13 of the 28 firms (46%) who submitted bids to his office for work.
The big unmasking, however, came with a lengthy New York Times article in October of 2014. Mr. Koster, alongside Florida’s Attorney General, Ms. Bondi, were singled out as some of the most corrupt prosecutors in the country.
Corporations such as the drink manufacturer 5-Hour Energy, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, and telecommunications icon AT&T were all in trouble in Missouri. Through their hired lawyers, these corporations contributed over $50,000 to Koster’s campaign, and over $300,000 to the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA), which, in turn, has paid $1.4 million to Koster’s campaigns.
Pfizer, under litigation by Missouri, invited Koster to be a keynote speaker at a Chicago breakfast meeting. Koster accepted, and five days before speaking, he handed Pfizer a gift in the form of a bargain-basement $750,000 settlement deal. Pfizer executives were pleased – as well they should be, since Oregon, pursuing similar litigation, won a $3.4 million settlement.
AT&T, under fire by multiple states for its billing practices, pleaded its case during Koster’s stay at a plush DAGA conference in Santa Monica, California. They were rewarded soon afterward, when Koster threatened to pull Missouri out of the multi-state lawsuit and proposed that the matter be settled without litigation.
The investigation of 5-Hour Energy was started by Koster’s staff on their own initiative. Koster ended it the instant a 5-Hour Energy lawyer told him about it, who also happened to be at the Santa Monica DAGA conference. A month later, Koster required all of his personnel to get clearance from him before pursuing any public corporation or company with more than 10 employees.
Koster said he got the idea for the policy from a senior executive in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.(Click here for story about Mineral Area speech)
Shortly after Schweich’s audit in 2012, Koster stopped political contributors from being on the short list for getting contracts from his office.
In November 2014, in response to the New York Times article, Chris Koster made a public promise to “avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest” by no longer accepting contributions from a company within a 90-day period of investigating or suing the company.
In April 2015, Deputy Otto performed an audit of the Attorney General’s Office. It found that Koster had not instituted his promise in a formal policy, and that travel expenses for staff appeared excessive.
Koster bristled at both contentions, denying that his office had acted improperly.
Meanwhile, Koster’s campaign funds have been flourishing. He currently has over $5 million, far more than all of the current Republican candidates for governor combined.(Click here for 2014 story of Koster pledge)
Jon Schuessler is a Volunteer leader in Jefferson County, and the chairman for Missouri Volunteers for Government Reform, a Political Action Committee (PAC) of the Volunteer Movement. Click here to read his bio or contact him.