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Missouri Speaker Names Panel To Probe Koster's Actions And Donations

Outgoing Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones announced Wednesday that he has formed the House Oversight Committee on Public Officials and Government Accountability “to conduct a thorough investigation of the numerous alleged improprieties and political shakedowns as outlined in a recent extensive investigatory piece in The New York Times.”

Jones, R-Eureka, was referring to The Times’ account of how prominent lobbyists had approached Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, and other states’ attorneys general, to persuade them to drop or curb investigations or lawsuits. In many cases, the lobbyists and the firms had been donors to the attorneys general, including Koster.

Koster, a Democrat (and former Republican) running for governor in 2016, has challenged some of The Times’ account, and denied that the donations had any influence on his office’s handling of cases.

Said Jones in a statement:   “We deserve to know the truth about what happened in these instances where it appears the best interests of the people of Missouri took a backseat to large sums of money that ended up in Koster’s campaign coffers.”

Jones added, “As Missourians, we expect our elected officials to serve with honesty and integrity, and it is imperative that we hold them accountable when it appears they have betrayed the trust of those who elected them to office. I am confident the oversight committee can delve deeper into these issues so that the truth is revealed and we know once and for all whether the Attorney General’s office was for sale.  It is my expectation that the Attorney General Koster would work with the committee to make sure that his office is wholly transparent and accountable to the citizens of our state.”

The committee is to be chaired by state Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City. The vice chair is to be Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia. The other committee members are: state Reps. Kevin Austin, R-Springfield; Kevin Engler, R-Farmington; Don Phillips, R-Kimberling City; Shawn Roads, R-West Plains; Chris Kelly, D-Columbia; Stephen Webber, D-Columbia; Mike Colona, D-St. Louis; and Kevin McManus, D-Kansas City.

However, several of the committee members are lame ducks, such as Kelly, with their terms ending in weeks. It’s unclear when the panel may meet, and whether incoming House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, will follow through.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.