The New York Times earlier this week released a story detailing the efforts of corporate lobbyists to derail state lawsuits and investigations into potentially illegal business practices. The article homed on one such endeavor by a lawyer representing 5-hour Energy, who was said to have successfully swayed Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster into dropping an inquiry looking into whether the company had engaged in deceptive and misleading advertising.
Missouri was one of 33 states in 2012 that initiated investigations into the marketing practices of Living Essentials, the parent company of 5-hour Energy. The inquiries came on the heels of a Times report that consumption of 5-hour Energy had been cited as a possible factor in 13 deaths over the prior four years, according to records kept by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In July, 2014, three states decided to file suit against Living Essentials, claiming that the company misleads consumers about the effectiveness of its ingredients outside of caffeine.
Last year, however, Missouri abruptly halted its investigation. The Times points to a brief meeting between Koster and Lori Kalani, an attorney for Living Essentials, at a Democratic Attorneys General Association conference and fundraiser as the impetus for the inquiry’s termination.
At the time, Kalani, who is employed by Dickstein Shapiro, a legal firm that has contributed thousands of dollars to Koster’s political campaigns, told the attorney general that “My client just received notification that Missouri is on this.” Koster told her that was unaware about the investigation and quickly called his office. Within a few days, Koster had pulled his team off the 5-hour case.
The Times also cited two other cases in which Koster had pulled investigations into corporate giants AT&T and Pfizer, both Dickstein clients.
Koster strongly denied the implication that Dickstein’s donations have anything to do with his decisions. Koster, who told The Times that he personally uses 5-hour, said that he believes the inquiry was unmerited and was upset that his staff had not notified him about the investigation.
In a statement sent on Wednesday to the media, Koster stated that “This Attorney General’s office has consistently protected Missouri consumers from fraud, regardless of the identity of those responsible.” Koster later told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch that The Times article “misrepresents the facts, distorting events to create an appearance of impropriety where none exists.”
Despite Koster’s response, he faces a potential investigation from the Missouri House of Representatives into possible improprieties with regard to his handling of the 5-hour case, among others.