In Missouri, as in other states, the attorney general’s office has provided a springboard to higher office, either to the governor’s mansion or the Senate. So even before Mr. Koster was sworn in for his second term, he was being mentioned as a candidate for higher office. And that made him an ideal target for the team at Dickstein.
The Dickstein lawyers have donated to his campaigns, invited him and his chief deputy to be featured speakers at law firm events and hosted Mr. Koster at dinners, and stayed in close contact with his office in emails that suggest unusual familiarity.
The relationship seems to have benefited some Dickstein clients.
Pfizer, the New York-based pharmaceutical giant, had hired Dickstein to help settle a case brought by at least 20 states, which accused the company of illegally marketing two of its drugs — Zyvox and Lyrica — for unapproved uses, or making exaggerated claims about their effectiveness.
Instead of participating in the unified investigation with other states — which gives attorneys general greater negotiating power — Mr. Koster’s office worked directly with Mr. Nash and Pfizer’s assistant general counsel, Markus Green.
Mr. Nash negotiated with Deputy Attorney General Joseph P. Dandurand through a series of emails, followed by a visit to Missouri in April 2013.
But both Pfizer and Dickstein had already built a relationship with Mr. Koster. Dickstein had participated in at least four fund-raising events for Mr. Koster, with its lawyers and the firm donating $13,500 to his campaigns, records show.
Several of those contributions came after Mr. Nash had invited Mr. Koster to participate in an “executive briefing” at the Park Hyatt for Dickstein’s clients. That same day, Mr. Koster held a fund-raising event, taking in contributions from Mr. Nash and other lawyers involved in matters that Mr. Koster would soon be, or already was, investigating, the records show.
“The folks at Pfizer are very appreciative and excited to hear from the General.” J. B. KELLY, a Dickstein partner, writing to a Missouri official about an appearance by the attorney general at an event sponsored by Pfizer.
Pfizer had directly donated at least $20,000 to Mr. Koster since 2009 — more than it gave to any other state attorney general, according to company records. That does not include the $320,000 that Pfizer donated during the same period to the Democratic Attorneys General Association, which in turn has donated to Mr. Koster’s campaigns.
Mr. Koster said his office was forced to negotiate directly with Mr. Nash and Pfizer because a staff lawyer missed a deadline to participate in the multistate investigation.
“This was an accident,” Mr. Koster said, adding that since he became attorney general in 2009, his office has participated in six cases against Pfizer that brought a total of $26 million to Missouri.
But the emails show that just as the negotiations on the 2013 case were intensifying, Mr. Koster’s chief deputy received an unusual invitation: Would the attorney general be interested in flying to Chicago to be the keynote speaker at a breakfast that Pfizer was sponsoring for its political action committee?
The topic was “the importance of corporations’ building productive relationships with A.G.s,” according to an email in March from Dickstein to Mr. Dandurand.
“As you know, these relationships are important to allow A.G.s and corporations to work together to address important public policy issues of concern to both the A.G. and the corporation,” the invitation said. “The conference participants also would like to hear how these relationships can help to efficiently address A.G.s’ questions or concerns before they escalate into major problems (like multistate investigations or litigation), as well as how they can carry over when A.G.s are elected to higher offices.”
Mr. Dandurand worked to accommodate the request.
“Trying now to clear his calendar,” Mr. Dandurand wrote back to the Dickstein lawyer, before confirming that Mr. Koster would accept the invitation.
“The folks at Pfizer are very appreciative and excited to hear from the General,” J. B. Kelly, a partner at Dickstein, replied.
Five days later — and just before Mr. Koster was scheduled to give the speech — Mr. Dandurand and Mr. Nash met to discuss a settlement in the fraud investigation. They agreed that Pfizer would pay Missouri $750,000 — at least $350,000 less than it would have collected if it had been part of the multistate investigation.
“Thank you for the meeting,” Mr. Nash wrote to Mr. Dandurand, after the settlement meeting in Missouri. “Pfizer is pleased.”
Mr. Koster said Missouri received a smaller payment from Pfizer because the state had less leverage after missing the multistate deadline. Oregon, the other state to negotiate directly with Pfizer on the Zyvox matter, secured a settlement worth $3.4 million — four times what Missouri received — even though Oregon’s population is far smaller.
Pfizer was not the only Dickstein client pleased with the firm’s representation before Mr. Koster’s office.
AT&T was also subject to an investigation by Mr. Koster’s office, something that Mr. Nash learned at the conference held at the Loews hotel. And like Ms. Kalani, Mr. Nash pleaded his case directly with Mr. Koster.
Three weeks after the conversation with Mr. Nash, Mr. Koster’s office took a step that questioned the legal strategy of a multistate investigation of AT&T’s billing practices, email records show. Mr. Koster did not officially back out of the inquiry, and Missouri ultimately benefited from a national settlement announced this month.
But frustrating leaders of the multistate investigation, Mr. Koster decided to join a small group of attorneys general who, to the industry’s pleasure, wanted to resolve the matter without subpoenas or the threat of a lawsuit, the emails show.
Mr. Koster said the donations had no effect on his actions, adding that he was determined to investigate the company for its deceptive billing practices. With 5-Hour Energy, he added, he pulled out of the investigation because he did not believe it was merited — adding that he personally uses the energy drink.
Yet he said he was angry that his staff had not notified him before joining investigations into these two major companies.
“Its stock price would move at the mere mention of our involvement,” Mr. Koster said, referring to AT&T.
Mr. Nash’s appeals were not finished.
A month after returning from the Santa Monica meeting, Mr. Koster adopted a new office policy requiring lawyers and managers in his consumer affairs division to get approval from his top aides before opening any investigations involving a publicly traded company or any company with more than 10 employees.
Mr. Nash and Lisa A. Rickard, a senior executive from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, were so pleased with the change that they asked Mr. Koster to give a talk about his new office policy at a meeting of attorneys general in Washington.
“This is going to be titled my Lisa Rickard memorial presentation,” Mr. Koster said at the February 2014 meeting. “She was the one who initiated this idea.”
The email records also reveal the personal nature of the relationship between Mr. Koster’s office and the lawyers at Dickstein.
In an August 2013 exchange, in which the attorney general’s office assured Mr. Nash that it would not share potentially damaging information on a Dickstein client with another state attorney general who was investigating the company — saying the documents were considered confidential — the conversation took a sudden turn away from business.
“Let’s go bowling sometime,” Mr. Dandurand wrote.
“Thanks,” Mr. Nash wrote back. “I’d rather eat and drink with you any time, any place.”
Speaker Tim Jones issued the following press release in response to the New York Times story: