JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The campaign committee of Attorney General Chris Koster, who is running for governor in 2016, has announced that it will be adopting new transparency policies internally and additionally called on fellow lawmakers to follow suit. The announcement comes weeks after scrutiny stemming from a New York Times’ article calling Koster’s ethics into question in pay-to-play allegations.
These new restrictions are the strictest conflict-of-interest provisions of any elected attorney general in the United States, a statement from Koster’s campaign claims. The restrictions announced today are not required by Missouri law.
The new policy:
- declines contributions from individuals and entities with litigation currently pending against the Attorney General’s Office or that has resolved in the past 90 days;
- declines contributions from lobbyists, attorneys, and their law firms, personally engaged in the representation of individuals and entities with litigation pending against the Attorney General’s Office or that has resolved in the past 90 days;
- declines contributions from anyone employed by the Attorney General’s Office.
Additionally, Koster announced that he would no longer accept gifts of any value from registered lobbyists.
“Transparency is the best way to erase any potential perception of a conflict,” said Koster in a statement. “We have reviewed the contribution policies of attorneys general from across the country and believe we have come up with an approach that serves the public interest. By prohibiting individuals, entities, and their representatives with pending litigation against the Attorney General’s Office from making political contributions, we are taking unprecedented steps to remove even the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
The new policy is modeled after one adopted by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The New York policy is similar to the one Attorney General Koster announced today, but unlike the New York policy, Koster’s policy applies to attorneys, law firms and lobbyists directly involved in litigation against the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, in addition to applying to the litigants themselves.
The new rules will apply to all campaign donations going forward.
Beginning immediately, all campaign donor cards will contain the following declaration:
To the best of my knowledge:
- Neither I personally nor any entity which I control has litigation presently pending against the MO Attorney General¹s office nor has had such litigation resolved by that office within the last 90 days;
- I am not a lawyer, a law firm that employs a lawyer, or a registered lobbyist, personally engaged in current litigation against the MO Attorney General¹s office, nor have I represented any entity engaged in such litigation in the past 90 days;
- I am not a current employee or contract employee of the MO Attorney General¹s office, nor have I been so employed in the past 90 days.
Contributors making an online donation will be asked to verify this disclaimer at the time of their donation, while individuals making a contribution via check will be asked to confirm this disclaimer in a separate disclosure form. The campaign will return contributions not conforming to this policy immediately upon determining any error has occurred.
“Contributions are part of the political process and there is no perfect campaign finance system,” Koster said. “My goal is to put in place a contribution policy that increases confidence in the electoral process. Additionally, my hope is that this policy will move the legislature to consider similar improvements to Missouri¹s campaign finance system.”
In issuing the new policy, Attorney General Koster called on the Missouri legislature to implement similar reforms for all branches of state and local government.
It is unlikely that the attention from the Big Apple has hurt Koster’s chances within his own party or made him any less of a serious candidate for governor. Since the article, a bipartisan group of legislators came forward defending Koster, but the outgoing Speaker of the House, Tim Jones, created a committee to look into the allegations.
Koster’s campaign committee currently has $2,604,243.47, per the October ethics filing.
Rachael Herndon was the editor at The Missouri Times and also produced This Week in Missouri Politics, published Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosted the #MoLeg podcast. She joined The Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting after working as a campaign and legislative staffer.
Rachael studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children.