Koster gets caught with hand in cookie jar

By YeOldeScribe ~ November 15th, 2014 @ 7:19 am

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster

Photo via Wikicommons, CCL

Attorney Generals rarely make headlines. Many people probably don’t even know what their Attorney General does at either the state or federal levels. But after a New York Times article came out just a couple weeks ago, Missouri voters definitely know what an Attorney General isn’t supposed to do.

Chris Koster has served as the state’s Attorney General since 2008, winning re-election in 2012 largely because he’s had a pretty successful track record. As the top law enforcement officer of the state, it’s mostly his job to stay out of the headlines unless he’s prosecuting a major case on behalf of Missourians (and unless he’s switching parties to win an election). But Koster got busted in late October, and in a big way.

Here’s the NYT article, which uses Koster as a springboard to talking about corruption in many Attorney General’s offices throughout the US. If you’re looking for the money quote, here it is:

“Ms. Kalani’s firm [representing 5-Hour Energy], Dickstein Shapiro, had courted the attorney general at dinners and conferences and with thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. Mr. Koster told Ms. Kalani that he was unaware of the investigation, and he reached for his phone and called his office. By the end of the weekend, he had ordered his staff to pull out of the inquiry, a clear victory for 5-Hour Energy.”

Like we said: busted.

Now Koster isn’t the only person doing this, especially in the great state of Missouri. See, in the Show-Me state, there’s no limit to what lobbyists can donate and individual donors can contribute. As long as it’s recorded, you can give out hundreds of thousands in one setting, as Rex Sinquefield often does. Very few other states have such lax rules when it comes to “dirty money” like this.

But as the NYT article points out, campaign finance reform and changing the way donations are handled won’t fix everything. It’s the culture that lobbyists create that’s the problem. Lavish dinners and cocktail parties. Lobbyists drafting legislation that more often than not becomes law with minimal changes. These are just a few of the reasons why we’re in the mess we’re in.

The biggest issue here is that Koster was essentially caught red-handed. He’s supposed to be the highest ranking member of law enforcement in the state, and he got caught if not breaking the letter of the law, than certainly the spirit of it. And this isn’t even the first time he’s been accused of such misbehavior. But this is old news – the NYT article is from the end of October, and it’s almost Thanksgiving. So what’s changed? Not much.

Sure, Republicans in the legislature will go after Koster with a commission, and Koster has already said he’ll reform the office. In the end, this is going to amount to a slap on the wrist, though – if that. Koster was planning to run for Governor in 2016, and by then this saga will have blown over. Because in our modern political system, we half expect our politicians to take bribes.

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