The action so far:
A New York Times story raised conflict-of-interest questions about Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, showing that he accepted campaign contributions and lavish hospitality from companies that his office was or might be investigating.
Republicans in the Missouri House reacted by creating a special committee to look into the allegations against the Democratic attorney general.
This week, Koster announced he was imposing stringent ethics guidelines on himself and called upon the legislature to adopt the same standards.
Advantage, Mr. Koster.
It shouldn’t have required embarrassing media coverage to do the right thing, but Koster’s new rules raise the needle on Missouri’s ethical barometer even if he’s the only one so far who has to follow them.
Going forward, Koster said, he will not accept political donations from anyone involved in cases pending in his office or completed within the previous 90 days. That prohibition includes lobbyists and lawyers who represent defendants.
He also will eschew campaign contributions from any employee or contract worker associated with his office. And he will “no longer accept gifts of any value from registered lobbyists.”
Those guiding principles could change Missouri’s political culture — if legislators banned themselves from taking contributions from anyone involved with bills they might be voting on, or if they quit taking unseemly handouts from lobbyists. It’s not likely to happen, but it should.
But Koster stopped short of the most vital reform — a limit on campaign contributions.
He says they don’t work, and he should know.
Back when term limits were in effect, Koster amassed a huge war chest from donors, like Rex Sinquefield, who cleverly set up multiple committees to get around the limits. Legislators used that sort of chicanery as an excuse to throw out the caps in 2008.
But other states manage to enforce limits. Missouri has never been serious enough about ethics to try to make them work.
Koster has taken a smart political step, which also happens to be the right thing to do. Your move, legislators.