Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is too easily wined and dined by corporations and their lobbyists

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is too close to the corporations he should be watching.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is too close to the corporations he should be watching. File photo

In yet another dismaying indictment of Missouri’s money-grubbing political culture, a national news report has revealed an unsavory lovefest between state Attorney General Chris Koster and lobbyists for corporations that are potential targets of state investigations.

Koster is featured prominently in a New York Times report about the successful infiltration of corporate influence in state attorneys general offices. The Democrat with an eye on the governor’s race in 2016 is shown attending corporate-financed meetings in opulent locations and appearing at speaking engagements for hosts such as the Pfizer pharmaceutical company and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Times article also shows Koster receiving generous campaign contributions from a law firm and its clients that are frequently targets of litigation brought by states. Koster also has received at least $1.4 million from the Democratic Attorneys General Association, a conduit for corporate largess.

Koster issued a terse statement saying The Times had “distorted events to create an appearance of impropriety where none exists.” He said his office reviews every potential case “on its merits” and “has consistently protected Missouri consumers from fraud, regardless of the identity of those responsible.”

But Koster’s willingness to be wined and dined by corporate interests, along with his acceptance of their monetary contributions, opens some of his decisions to suspicion of improper influence.

For instance, emails obtained by The Times show a discomfiting familiarity among Koster, at least one of his top aides and the Washington-based Dickstein Shapiro law firm and its clients, one of which is Pfizer.

Attorneys general in at least 20 states brought a case accusing Pfizer of making false claims while marketing two of its drugs. Koster didn’t participate in the larger investigation but instead negotiated directly with Pfizer and its lawyers. Pfizer agreed to pay Missouri $750,000, at least $350,000 less than what the state would have collected had it participated in the multistate investigation.

“Pfizer is pleased,” a partner with Dickstein Shapiro reported in an email to Koster’s assistant.

Koster’s explanation is that he had to negotiate separately because, due to personnel moves, his staff missed a deadline to participate in the larger case. He said his office has participated in several actions against Pfizer.

That may be. But if Koster’s office is routinely engaged in potential litigation against Pfizer, he shouldn’t have accepted $20,000 in campaign donations from the drug maker since 2009 or accepted donations and lavish hospitality from its lobbyist.

All of this raises questions about whether Koster deserves to be the heir apparent for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2016, as many people assume. Missouri needs leaders who will fight the corrupting influence of big money in government, not embrace it.