‘Titanic’ Revelation: DiCaprio Nabs Starring Role in Private Financing of Government ‘Climate’ Lawsuits
Is this among the millions that foundations are providing to a ‘contingency fee’ tort firm? Did tort firm disclose to politician clients? Did politicians disclose to legislatures and taxpayers?
In 2020, information surfaced in IRS Forms 990 filed by the non-profit Resources Legacy Fund (“RLF”) suggesting that the ‘climate nuisance’ and ‘consumer fraud’ lawsuits filed by Sher Edling, LLP on behalf of progressive attorneys general officials and local governments, were being privately financed to the tune of millions of dollars.
“Charitable grants” of millions of dollars to a plaintiff’s tort firm are certainly unusual. This was particularly curious given the politicians hired Sher Edling with contingency fee contracts promising them tens of millions in the event they prevail, because the governments couldn’t afford to pay the firm and the firm took the risk in making the investment in the cases unsure of a payday.
“Deception may make for a good story on the big screen, but this new evidence raises some very troubling questions outside of Hollywood. Are well-heeled donors secretly funding government litigation by attorneys who are also seeking a second, multi-million dollar payday from the taxpayers?”
One law professor, Michael Krauss of George Mason University, raised questions about the arrangement, in Forbes.com. Indeed, if the money given to the law firm at the same time the lawsuits began being filed was for those lawsuits, then the non-profit obscured that fact with misleading language. The grants were officially reported as supporting “land or marine conservation” (2017) ($432,129), then as “advancing healthy communities” (2018) ($1,319,625) then, apparently having run out of euphemisms, as supporting “land or marine conservation, promotion of education and/or healthy communities” (2019) ($1.1 million).
Nonetheless, emails just obtained by Government Accountability & Oversight in open records litigation in California after a two-year legal battle at least confirm that private parties were in fact “serious supporters” underwriting the litigation (and presumably still are). These include Leonardo DiCaprio who, a review of his foundation’s IRS filings suggest, routed his group’s funding through at least one other organization.
So, Terry [Tamminen]’s group — at the time Tamminen was CEO of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation — and Dan Emmett are “strong supporters” of the Sher Edling litigation. And their colleague om several environmentalist enterprises, major Republican ‘green’ donor Andy Sabin was targeted to possibly help fund the assault, too.
It is possible that the “serious support” for “the nuisance litigation” was funneled into RLF’s $3 million that has so far been reported. However, Emmett’s foundation’s 990s (and his word choice) suggest this was personal money or, if it was from his own foundation, then that money too may have been routed through at least one other organization. Likely conduits for that latter task, from the various 990s, include Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and Sustainable Markets Foundation, even the University of California.
This new revelation raises further, serious ethical as well as public policy questions. Among them: what’s with the contingency fee pacts promising lawyers a substantial share of a claimed hundreds of millions of dollars in supposed losses by the taxpayers in the plaintiff jurisdictions when the firm isn’t, in fact, taking the suggested risk/investing on its own lots of uncompensated time on a suit that may never pay? Do the clients and the taxpayers they represent know about this?
Notably, there is no indication from these records or other such correspondence obtained under open records laws that this “serious support” is litigation finance for a stake, just donors ponying up to finance the cases as a cause.
Consider Minnesota. There, the firm’s contract had to be approved by a Legislative Advisory Commission as a good government measure. The Minnesota AG’s contract with Sher Edling states, in toto, re compensation for the work: More