In August, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s campaign for governor received a $10,000 contribution from AT&T. It’s one of many checks the telecommunications giant or its PAC writes to political candidates every year.
What’s unusual in this case is that Koster, a Democrat, had already returned a $10,000 check from AT&T earlier this year, as part of his campaign’s conflict-of-interest policy against accepting funds from entities that Koster’s office investigates.
It’s part of a long-running story that started in October 2014, when Koster was a main character in a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigation detailing how corporate lobbyists seek influence with the state attorneys general who regulate their industries. The Times highlighted Koster’s relationship—including campaign donations—and correspondence with the lobbying firm Dickstein Shapiro and three of its clients: 5-hour Energy, Pfizer, and AT&T. In one example, Koster’s office “took a step that questioned the legal strategy of a multi-state investigation of AT&T’s billing practices” weeks after a conversation with a Dickstein lobbyist.
Koster denied that he ever took actions intended to benefit Dickstein’s clients as a result of the firm’s lobbying or campaign contributions, but he responded by instituting a strict new conflict-of-interest policy in his gubernatorial campaign—in the absence of any actual regulation in Missouri, which has some of the country’s most relaxed campaign-finance laws. Koster placed a self-imposed ban on certain donations, including those from companies, law firms, or individuals connected to investigations in the attorney general’s office. The policy also banned those companies from donating to his campaign within 90 days of an investigation’s resolution and forbade contributions from campaign staff and lobbyist gifts.