Attorney General Chris Koster has testified to a committee assembled in response to a New York Times article that tied his office’s decisions about what companies to investigate to campaign contributions from those companies’ lobbyists, and turned that attention back on Missouri lawmakers.
The committee was created by House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) after the October article that suggested Koster pulled the plug on investigations of companies at the urging of their lobbyists, only to receive donations later from those lobbyists’ firms.
Koster defended his decisions and noted that his office’s policies concerning when investigations would proceed changed before that article’s release, and since then his office changed its policies about accepting donations from companies it is investigating or had in the previous 90 days.
Regarding the three areas focused on in the Times’ article, Koster stood by his office’s actions and decisions regarding 5-Hour Energy Drinks and AT&T. He again admitted that a mistake was made causing Missouri to miss a filing deadline in a case against pharmaceutical company Pfizer, but noted that Missouri was the only state among 17 to miss that deadline but pursue an alternative legal theory and come out with a settlement.
Koster was pointed in his response to the article, and the formation of that committee in response to it.
Speaking about the 5-Hour energy investigation, Koster said, “To assert that this is the type of case that Missouri should be prosecuting is just silly. Back when I was a Republican we would have considered a lawsuit of this kind to be frivolous and abusive to Missouri’s business community, but today the Speaker has convened a House investigative hearing to inquire as to why this case was never brought.”
Sounding as if he was arguing a case, Koster then called on the legislature to think of its own actions in the same way he says the article made him think about his office’s.
“While Missouri has a relatively transparent campaign finance system, there are several steps I hope the legislature will consider in order to begin to improve this process,” Koster told the committee.
He challenged the legislature to lower from $5,000 to $2,500 the amount of a donation which must be reported within 48-hours, to ban of lobbyist gifts to public officials, and to have lawmakers refuse contributions from entities with bills pending in the legislature during the session and for 90 days after a session’s end.
Koster also urged that 501(c)(4)s – nonprofit, so-called “social welfare” groups who under tax law must spend less than half of their money on politics – be required to register with the Missouri Ethics Commission 90 days before an election or be disallowed from advertising, and be required to fully disclose all contributions received in the previous four years or disclose the names of their top three donors in all advertising.
Koster also criticized the legislature for considering itself exempt to Missouri’s open records, or “sunshine,” law.
“Legislators remain the only officials in our government who refuse to turn over documents to the public and to the media when you are sunshined, and this type of secrecy should end,” Koster told the committee. “How can you seriously extol the virtues of transparent government through hearings such as this but at the same time hold yourselves above such scrutiny?”
Committee Chairman Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) and Koster seemed to agree that the attorney general’s office acted correctly, but that there had been an appearance of misconduct.