New Report Details Outsourcing of Attorney General Services to Donor-Funded Fellowship Program Dedicated to “Progressive Legal Positions”
Democratic state attorney general offices across the country have received legal fellows sponsored by a wealthy environmental foundation to work pro bono on climate policy issues as a member of the attorney general’s staff, according to a new report.
The revelations are based on public records obtained through a series of open records requests filed in multiple states, over a span of two and a half years, by the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s (CEI) senior fellow Chris Horner. The full findings, catalogued in CEI’s newly released report, “Law Enforcement for Rent, How Special Interests Fund Climate Policy Through State Attorneys General,” reveal an extensive pattern of practicing attorneys, hired as “Research Scholars” being placed as “Special Assistant Attorneys General” in receptive offices with the focus of advancing climate policy work.
“The modus operandi that we have found entails using nonprofit organizations as pass-through entities by which donors support elected officials to use their offices to advance a specific set of policies favored by said donors, with resources that legislatures will not provide and which donors cannot legally provide directly,” Horner writes in the report. “This model is being employed by activist elected prosecutors as part of this billion dollar-plus annual climate activism industry.”
Public records show that former New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg is funding the effort through his foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies.
As Western Wire previously reported, Bloomberg Philanthropies helped establish the “State Energy and Environmental Impact Center,” (SEEIC) housed at the New York University School of Law, with a $6 million grant. To date, the center has selected as many as ten state offices, including Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Washington, D.C., and placed as many as 14 fellows via the fellowship program.
“This is a case of law enforcement for hire,” Horner asserts.
NYU describes the program as “bi-partisan,” but to this point involvement has been limited to Democratic offices.
In order to obtain a legal fellow, state attorney general offices went through an extensive application process. According to documents cited in the report, applicants were required to “demonstrate a need and commitment to defending environmental values and advancing progressive clean energy, climate change, and environmental legal positions.”
An email from David Hayes, Executive Director of SEEIC, to prospective attorney general offices outlines the support that the fellowship program will provide each respective staff.
“First, our Center will have three full-time attorneys who will be available to provide direct legal assistance to interested AGs,” Hayes wrote in an email to two dozen state attorney general offices. “We look forward to developing a working relationship with your offices and serving as a source of ideas, materials, and contacts on these matters.”
Hayes, who served as an Interior Department deputy secretary during the Obama and Clinton administrations, spoke to the influence of attorneys general at the Climate Leadership Conference in Denver. Bloomberg Philanthropies was a primary sponsor of the event, taking over for the Environmental Protection Agency, which had sponsored events during the Obama Administration but opted against doing so this year.
As Western Wire reported at the time, Hayes participated in a conference panel on “Building Momentum for Climate Action.” In his remarks to the crowd, Hayes discussed ways attorneys general can help advance certain climate initiatives while using law enforcement capabilities.
“When it comes to climate change and clean energy, they are enforcing the law in the way that I think all of us in this room want them to—at least the progressive AGs,” Hayes said.
“The AGs have been busy. Consistent with the theme of this conference, there has been a lot of activity at the state level,” Hayes continued, referring to states bringing forward litigation against the federal government.
As Hayes alluded to in his comments, the focus of much of the legal climate work provided for by SEEIC surrounds state action against the federal government. Emails obtained by CEI show that the strongest candidates in the application process demonstrated a need for additional resources to conduct climate work that, absent the fellow’s presence, would not get completed.
“Priority consideration will be given to state attorneys general who demonstrate a commitment to and an acute need for additional support on… issues of regional or national importance, such as those matters that cross jurisdictional boundaries or raise legal questions or conflicts that have nationwide applicability,” state the application requirements.
According to the report, once selected, the fellow will aid on litigation pertaining to environmental issues, climate change, and clean energy policy. Those tasks include “(a) conducting in-depth analysis and preparation of legal memoranda; (b) interpreting laws and regulations; (c) providing legal advice; and (d) assisting in preparing legal notices, briefs, comment letters, and other associated litigation and regulatory documents.”
As a part of the agreement, emails and other documents revealed the fellow is to provide “periodic reports” to the State Impact Center and summarize the “contribution” the legal fellow made to the office’s clean energy, climate change, and environmental initiatives.
While the selected fellow is for practical, but not official, purposes a member of the attorney general office’s staff, his or her salary and benefits are paid for by the foundation or donor providing the funding, not the state, with annual compensation ranging from the high five figures to around $150,000.
The assistance is not limited, however, to the program fellows or legal advice.
Another additional provision of the SEEIC program is to provide communications support to amplify each respective office’s work on climate issues.
“We noted that one of the State Impact Center’s most important tasks, from our perspective, is to deploy effective communications strategies that will draw attention to key state AGs’ initiatives in the clean energy, climate, and environmental arena,” NYU wrote to Oregon’s office of the attorney general. “Our Communications Director, Chis Moyer, is our point on this. We are eager to have Chris stay in close touch with Kristina and help draw attention to the important clean energy, climate, and environmental work that your office is engaged in.”
According to the employee “secondment” agreement obtained by CEI, SEEIC and the attorney general’s office will work to coordinate on messaging and announcements.
“In addition to the formal reporting requirements, the [AG OFFICE] and the Legal Fellow will collaborate with the State Impact Center about clean energy, climate change, and environmental matters in which the Legal Fellow is engaged, including coordination on related public announcements,” the agreement read.
From a legal standpoint, CEI characterizes the SEEIC-attorney general office relationship as generally falling in “a gray area with neither prohibition nor authority.”
Questions about the legal uncertainty—or the exact nature of the arrangements—are also discussed in the email documents.
In several emails, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum raises questions about how to explain the nature of the agreement with the SEEIC fellow.
“…[W]ould like to see his contract and the NYU program description. We need to be sure we are prepared to explain his position to the media, who, no doubt, will be interested. (Because he is being paid by an outside entity—which is quite unusual I think),” Rosenblum wrote to the Oregon Department of Justice’s Frederick Boss.
In later emails, Rosenblum expresses concern about referring to the fellow as a “volunteer.”
“Are we sure it is correct to refer to him as a ‘volunteer.’ And not an employee. Can you be an unpaid employee of the State?” Rosenblum asks Boss.
“I find it strange to call someone who is working under our supervision with the title of SAAG and who is getting paid (by a third party) the same as he would if he were working for DOJ as a regular AAG—a volunteer,” she continued.
The next day, Rosenblum sent Boss another email with the emphatic subject line, “Re: NYU Fellow Appointment Do not use volunteer!”
Although every office was asked to certify the arrangement’s legality in their state, Horner writes that Oregon’s law appears to actually prohibit such a relationship.
The blurred lines between the interests of private foundations and government is not limited to attorney general offices. In a January house editorial, the Wall Street Journal wrote about Washington Governor Jay Inslee subcontracting work to two environmentally-focused foundations. They specifically pointed to an engagement involving World Resources Institute (WRI) and Inslee’s administration.
“Under this remarkable arrangement, the state agreed to perform a ‘scope of work’ for the nonprofit that includes ‘activities and deliverables’ to advance a green agenda. The special-interest tail is officially wagging the democratic dog, given that the contract provides the job framework for Mr. Inslee’s senior policy adviser for climate and sustainability, Reed Schuler,” the editorial read.
Similar to the agreement with SEEIC, WRI pays a salary for the policy advisor and receives regular updates on the work.
“In other words, he holds an influential policy position. And it’s funded through a grant from the World Resources Institute, which reimburses Washington for Mr. Schuler’s salary, benefits and expenses. Under its contract, Washington State sends progress reports alongside its $33,210 quarterly invoices to the nonprofit,” states the editorial.
NYU shared this January editorial with Oregon’s Department of Justice in late July, with numerous passages highlighted, as the office prepared to announce it was bringing on a privately-funded attorney.
The CEI report concludes that the tranche of documents ultimately “reveals an elaborate and years-long campaign by major left-leaning donors, green advocacy groups, and activist state AGs to politicize law enforcement in the service of the ‘progressive’ environmental policy agenda.”