A team of attorneys, dedicated to thwarting President Trump’s agenda, has been discreetly integrated into state attorneys general (AG) offices nationwide.
Financed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a prominent billionaire and political activist, these lawyers are part of Bloomberg’s campaign launched in August 2017.
The initiative operates through the New York University Law School’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center (SEEIC).
The center, as stated on its website, aims to “support state attorneys general in defending and promoting clean energy, climate, and environmental laws and policies.”
Notably, the legal team is headed by David Hayes, a former official in both the Obama and Clinton administrations, with advisory council members including Clinton/Obama alumni Bruce Babbitt and Daniel Firger from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The project’s primary objective is to establish a “fellows program” designed to offer additional in-house support to attorneys general and their senior staff on issues related to clean energy, climate change, and regional or national environmental concerns.
While these fellows engage in government business within state attorneys general offices, their salaries and benefits are covered by SEEIC.
The initiative acknowledges financial constraints in certain states’ attorneys general offices as a driving force behind the project, stating on its website, “Unfortunately, in some states, state attorneys general have limited in-house resources available to address complex energy and environmental matters.”
The program’s existence was initially disclosed in August 2017 by Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post.
At that time, David Hayes informed the Post that the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center had received a $6 million grant, intending to utilize it not only for litigation against the federal government but also for enforcement activities at the state level.
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During a panel discussion at Columbia University as part of New York Climate Week, I inquired about the current status of the program from David Hayes, who was a panelist at the event.
Hayes, alongside legal representatives from the New York Attorney General’s office, the New York City Mayor’s office, and attorneys representing municipalities suing energy companies for climate change, confirmed that the Bloomberg program operates through the nation’s capital, not NYU.
He specified that there would be a team of seven individuals in Washington, D.C., including five lawyers and two communications professionals, tasked with coordinating the progressive positions of attorneys general and enhancing communication efforts.
Hayes went into further detail regarding the expansion of the legal fellows within attorneys general (AG) offices across the nation. He explained, “We also have funding for about 15 special assistant AGs, who are hired by AGs based on applications, for two-year fellowships.
The lawyers work in the AG’s offices. Their duty and loyalty are to the AG, they don’t report to NYU.” According to Hayes, this approach has been successful, with special assistant AGs placed in New York, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington State, Maryland, and D.C., acting as a force extension for AGs committed to progressive positions on clean energy, climate, and environmental issues.
Interestingly, the contract explicitly states that these “special assistant AGs” are not hired by the AGs themselves; rather, Bloomberg’s Center is responsible for their recruitment.
Hayes also highlighted the unique nature of the relationship between these legal fellows, whose application process involves NYU Law School, and the school itself, emphasizing that their connection is solely through the paychecks funded by Bloomberg.
The mention of a full-time communications team in Washington, D.C., supporting the AGs’ efforts to promote their ongoing challenges against the Trump administration raises noteworthy considerations.
The Bloomberg program’s operational dynamics become clearer when considering a recent report by Chris Horner from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
The report outlines that these attorneys are strategically placed in state attorneys general (AG) offices to work and report back to David Hayes on official state AG business.
The report also highlights the involvement of another wealthy environmental activist, Wendy Abrams, who, as a board member of the Union of Concerned Scientists and founder of a legal center at the University of Chicago School of Law, organized a meeting with the Illinois Attorney General’s office to discuss launching an investigation against energy companies for climate change. During this meeting, Abrams brought along Steve Berman, a partner with Hagens Berman, a leading firm urging AGs and cities to pursue investigations and lawsuits against energy companies.
Notably, the Illinois AG’s office has also benefited from a “legal fellow” through the Bloomberg program.
Additional emails obtained by Horner suggest that not all AGs want their constituents to be aware of their involvement in the program.
In New Mexico, Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office coordinated with Hayes to avoid drawing too much attention to the Bloomberg fellowship program in the state, aiming to minimize public scrutiny and maintain a lower profile.
Despite this effort to avoid publicity in New Mexico, Balderas has gained positive media coverage in Washington, D.C., where he is described as a “street fighter” by beltway publications.
The support provided by Bloomberg and other wealthy environmental activists to aspiring attorneys general raises concerns about substantial in-kind donations.
There is a possibility that these influential figures aim to expand this covert legal army through the midterm elections.
Real Clear Politics has reported significant donations from Bloomberg to the Democratic Attorney General Association, along with millions more to various groups supporting Democratic AG candidates. The extent of additional contributions leading up to Election Day remains uncertain.
The growth of Bloomberg’s invisible legal army is evident, and during election seasons, it becomes crucial to scrutinize such unprecedented relationships and external influences.
Questions arise about the appropriateness of wealthy activists funding “special assistant attorneys general” in state law enforcement offices based on political ideology.
Shedding light on this campaign and understanding the potential consequences becomes a crucial first step in addressing the attempt by a billionaire to influence state AGs’ offices for political and partisan purposes.
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