- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Although Attorney General Chris Koster’s gubernatorial campaign has had a policy in place for months to address concerns that he was influenced by lobbyist perks and political donations, an audit released Tuesday faulted his state office for not implementing a similar system.

At issue is a New York Times article in October asserting Koster was among many attorneys general who were soft on companies facing litigation from their offices after receiving gifts and donations.

Koster’s campaign spokesman Andrew Whalen on Tuesday confirmed that he adopted a policy the next month to stop accepting gifts from lobbyists or contributions from anyone involved in litigation with his office within the last 90 days.

Koster, the only Democrat running for governor in 2016, called it one of the strictest ethics policies of any elected attorney general in the U.S. But the state audit criticized the attorney general’s office for not implementing similar protocols to prevent conflicts of interest.

In a written response included in the audit report, the attorney general’s office said its lawyers had no contact with Koster’s campaign.

“Whether or not a particular entity, lobbyist, or attorney may be a political contributor is of no relevance, and AGO attorneys spend no time concerning themselves with that issue,” the office said in its written response. “The far better solution is to keep campaign business out of the office.”

Spokespeople for the attorney general’s office declined further comment Tuesday.

But Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto said oversight - not just from the campaign - is a necessary safeguard to prevent the appearance of lobbyist influence.

“The public is not going to buy that they have this impenetrable wall between the two,” Otto said. “It just won’t fly.”

Otto said that review is especially needed considering Koster’s campaign turns down donations based on a system of self-reporting. The campaign is now relying on donors to disclose whether they are involved with litigation or potential litigation before the attorney general.

Whalen said if they later discover a donor’s involvement they will return that money.

The audit also said Koster’s office gave unreasonable raises to staff during a time when a tight budget has meant little or no raises for most state employees. Koster cut down on the number of workers in his office and used the savings for average raises of about 9 percent.

The attorney general office’s response in the audit called the criticism an “unfortunate approach” to state employee pay.

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