In Government Accountability & Oversight, P.C. v. Office of the Attorney General, Maryland AG Brian Frosh has asked a court to seal Frosh’s application seeking Michael Bloomberg underwriting for Frosh’s “climate” policy and ideological activism.
CLW readers know that Bloomberg created a group to place privately hired attorneys in AG offices “to advance the agenda represent by” Bloomberg’s group. Meaning, Bloomberg’s agenda.
Frosh has two Bloomberg-funded climate prosecutors. Frosh was Bloomberg’s lead recruiter of other AGs (a role assumed by Massachusetts AG Maura Healey precisely one year ago). Frosh used his GMail account to execute this action obviously performed in his official capacity as AG.
Frosh also is the only AG to hide his plea for Bloomberg largesse from the public. Only Frosh, Bloomberg’s people, and a judge know what Frosh promised the Bloomberg group.
Frosh’s filing came in response to GAO’s recent Motion for Summary Judgment.
“The gist is that Bloomberg is funding through NYU some fellowship positions for midcareer environmental litigators to be farmed out to State Attorneys General to join the fight against Trump ’s rollback of our environmental protection laws and regulations,” wrote Maryland’s Deputy Attorney General Carolyn Quattrocki in a November 2017 email to colleagues.
A recent filing against the US EPA to block a Trump regulatory reform was loaded with attorneys from Bloomberg’s squad.
But there’s more going on, as revealed by the AGs’ applications for this scheme as well as public litigation filings — that is, when the applications are unredacted, as every single other application has been: AGs NYU Applications (Zip compressed folder)
In addition to Virginia AG Mark Herring’s outrageous vow to use his office to advance Bloomberg’s agenda, New Mexico’s Hector Balderas promised his “Office would work with the NYU Law Fellow to identify ‘pressure points’ on which litigation can be used to most effectively influence policy.” As CLW posts have detailed, New York’s application laid out that the mercenaries would pursue the climate-liability litigation industry, and true to NY OAG’s word they have. Massachusetts’ application also specifically noted that its “Special Assistant AGs” would investigate private parties for supposed “climate offenses”. And they are.
That is, the Bloomberg program is part and parcel of the #ExxonKnew tort campaign, something the plaintiffs’ bar sought as long ago as 2012.
Mr. Frosh, whom Bloomberg supported in a 2013 primary race and who served as the Bloomberg group’s first lead recruiter, heavily redacted his office’s request for Bloomberg resources, forcing GAO to file suit to obtain the full application. The suit revealed that Mr. Frosh requested a $125,000 salary plus benefits for his Bloomberg-funded special assistant (his first of at least two, we now know). Then Mr. Frosh appointed the lawyer under his “pro bono special counsel” authority.
The scheme is more troubling the closer one looks. Mr. Bloomberg is a major donor to Democratic politicians and causes. He has made electing progressive attorneys general his priority. Two Bloomberg-funded groups, Independence USA PAC and Everytown USA for Gun Safety, put more than $2 million into electing and re-electing Virginia AG Mark Herring. Bloomberg picked Frosh from a three-way primary back in 2013, and has had a very good friend since. Mr. Frosh doesn’t want the public to know how close this relationship is.
Of course, this “application” is a public record, barring some reason it isn’t. Every other AG knows this and has produced theirs — if sometimes to great embarrassment, and always some element of ethical, political and legal risk.
Frosh’s effort is extraordinary, then the paper trail in what is clearly an effort to let out/rent law enforcement offices would not be the subject of such fevered efforts to hide them. It does raise the question why, if things really are so on the up-and-up as the AGs and Bloomberg’s group say — and if Frosh’s promises to the Bloomberg group were benign.
NEW MOTION SEEKS DETAILS ON MARYLAND AGS USE OF BLOOMBERG FUNDED ATTORNEYS
By Energy in Depth’s PATRICK HALL
A new court filing in the lawsuit against Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh seeks to further pull back the curtain on the Michael Bloomberg-backed State Energy and Environmental Impact Center (SEEIC) at the NYU School of Law, and the program’s continued efforts to place privately-funded attorneys focused on climate change and prosecuting energy producers in state Attorneys General offices around the country.
Brought by Government Accountability and Oversight, P.C. (GAO), the filing calls for the release of Frosh’s “application” to hire two “Special Assistant Attorneys General” through the SEEIC program, which would provide details on how the Maryland AG’s office sought to deploy these privately-funded SAAGs. The motion notes that Frosh is the only AG of the 11 whose work is being supported by Bloomberg-funded SAAGs that is withholding his application from the public.
Making Frosh’s application for SEEIC support public is vitally important for several reasons. Firstly, as EID has outlined before, that a private donor like Bloomberg is funding state law enforcement officials to specifically pursue issues in which he is interested is beyond concerning. As the hiring application for the program states:
“The opportunity to potentially hire an NYU Fellow is open to all state attorneys general who demonstrate a need and commitment to defending environmental values and advancing progressive clean energy, climate change, and environmental legal positions.” (emphasis added)
The legality of this arrangement is even further called into question by the fact that Frosh brought on the SAAG under the pretense that they would be working “pro bono” – yet previously released emails show the SAAG would receive a salary of $125,000 through SEEIC. As the motion notes:
“The Bloomberg Center granted the Application and, on January 3, 2018, extended an offer of employment to Joshua Segal “as a Research Scholar, in the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at New York University,” stating in the same letter, “[y]our annual base salary will be $125,000” plus employee benefits and that, “[d]uring your employment, you will be seconded to the Attorney General’s Office of the State of Maryland as a Special Assistant Attorney General.”… Following Segal’s acceptance of this offer, Defendant AG Brian Frosh appointed him “as Pro Bono Assistant Counsel” pursuant to State Government Article 6-105(f).” (emphasis added)
Yet, despite the clear conflict of interest that employing a privately-funded SAAG in a “pro bono” position represents, Frosh has only shared a redacted version of the application claiming that the details are “protected by the attorney-client privilege.” An interesting tactic, considering the Director of the SEEIC, David Hayes, stated just last month that no such privileged relationship exists:
“The law fellows’ duties of loyalty and confidentiality run solely to state attorneys general, consistent with all applicable law.”
This begs the question, what is AG Frosh hiding?
Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News reporter
Published: Monday, August 19, 2019Conservative groups are raising new legal questions about state attorneys general who are involved in climate litigation and hire outside lawyers to work on the issue.
In a lawsuit filed in state court last week, Washington state-based Energy Policy Advocates said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) must hand over records detailing his office’s communication with a plaintiffs’ law firm that works on climate litigation against energy companies, as well as records related to his office’s hiring of a lawyer — Pete Surdo — through a fellowship sponsored by New York University’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center.
The State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, funded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, coordinates with state attorneys general on environmental litigation and organizes the fellowship program to place environmental lawyers in state attorney general offices.
While state offices routinely hire third-party lawyers to help with technical litigation, critics say the setup forces taxpayers to bankroll legal work funded by parties with special interests.
Ellison defended his office’s work.
“Minnesotans are living with the effects of pollution, environmental injustice, and climate change every day, and they expect an Attorney General who enforces environmental law,” he said in a statement. “My office is happy to accept the assistance of New York University law school to help me advance the cause of environmental stewardship. We can legally accept their help and we are honored do so.”
Doug Seaton, president of the Upper Midwest Law Center, is representing the conservative group in the case. Christopher Horner, a senior fellow at the libertarian think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, also represents the group suing Ellison. Horner has pushed back on mainstream climate science in the past and is on the board of directors of Government Accountability & Oversight, a conservative law group.
Full story here
From Western Wire
Pressure is building on New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas over his office’s use of attorneys that are paid for by a group created with financial backing of New York City Mayor and climate activist Michael Bloomberg.
Balderas is one of 11 state attorneys general known to the public who has brought on such private attorneys funded by Bloomberg’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law. These attorneys are hired and have their salaries and benefits fully paid for by the Center, then are placed in state attorneys general offices specially to work on climate and environmental matters, including assisting with litigation against fossil fuel companies.
Western Wire first reported on the arrangement in Balderas’ office in September 2017.
Now Balderas is receiving criticism from Power the Future, an energy advocacy group, and the American Tort Reform Association, according the Albuquerque Journal. These criticisms have prompted a harsh rebuke from the newspaper’s editorial board.
They have accused Balderas of avoiding transparency by giving power to privately-employed attorneys to shape policy in New Mexico even though they’re funded by climate activists in New York. They contend these attorneys have no accountability to New Mexico taxpayers.
This growing public pressure has forced Balderas’ office to respond. His spokesman told the Albuquerque Journal that the attorney general has routinely hired attorneys funded by outside sources, although he cited legal settlements from anti-money laundering and mortgage cases and grants from the federal government, not private sources like Bloomberg’s group.
Government Accountability & Oversight (GAO) is a public interest law firm that litigates against AG offices to obtain records such as those relating to the Bloomberg program. GAO’s Chris Horner dismissed Balderas’ insistence that this is a common activity as “comparing apples to stethoscopes,” noting, “The group’s name affirms its objective is to obtain state-level policy changes, though it seeks to do so via law enforcement, not the policymaking process.”
Full story here
By Kevin Mooney
The Natural Resources Defense Council held close ties to the Obama administration, providing advice on joining the Paris Agreement while simultaneously maintaining ties to China, according to attorneys and policy analysts who have reviewed email records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
While many of the emails are heavily redacted, they provide insight into how the NRDC, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, and its close associates in Beijing, sought to maneuver the United States into an international climate change accord that has all the “hallmarks of a treaty” without the “advice and consent” of the Senate, Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, explained in an interview.
The United Nations’ Paris Agreement, which took shape in December 2015, figures prominently in emails between Jake Schmidt, the NRDC’s director of international programs, and several State Department officials including Todd Stern, who was a special envoy for climate change at the time of his correspondence with Schmidt in 2014 and 2015.
Cohen calls the agreement “an instrument to redistribute wealth, through higher energy prices, from middle- and lower-income people to well-heeled renewable-energy providers and investors in developed countries, while spreading some largesse to elites in poorer countries via the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund.”
President Obama took executive action to have the United States become part of the international agreement in September 2016, which requires participating countries to establish their own “nationally determined contributions” toward what the U.N. describes as a “global response to the threat of climate change.” The nationally determined contributions (NDCs) detail how much each country plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. In June 2017, President Trump announced during a White House ceremony that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The president said the treaty was unfair to American workers and taxpayers.
Chris Horner, an attorney with Government Accountability and Oversight, a nonprofit, public interest law firm, said he would still like to see the White House submit the agreement to the Senate as a treaty in need of ratification.
“Paris is a treaty according to all historic and common-sense considerations,” Horner said in an email to the Free Beacon. “The ‘legal form’ stunt pretending otherwise that the Obama administration pulled satisfied a publicly stated priority of the French hosts of the Paris talks, of the Obama White House and State Department, and of NRDC which, emails suggest, was the State Department’s adviser on that issue.”
“Behind that move lies a ‘Circular 175 memo,’ which is required prior to the U.S. entering any agreement and which must address that very question of ‘legal form,'” Horner explained. “Whatever that memo said, it reflected NRDC’s role and input and served as the justification for the Obama claim that an obvious treaty—adopted by all of our supposed models under their procedures for treaties, as opposed to ‘agreements’—was actually not a treaty for U.S. purposes.”
Full story here
By Chris Horner and Victoria Toensing, writing in the Wall Street Journal
The State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, a group created by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2017, is hiring and placing lawyers in the offices of state attorneys general. The mission of the group, which is led by a former Interior Department official and housed at New York University’s law school, is to provide “direct legal assistance to interested attorneys general on specific administrative, judicial or legislative matters involving clean energy, climate change and environmental interests of regional and national significance.” At least one of the two Bloomberg “special assistant attorneys general” placed in the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James is involved with the prosecution of Exxon Mobil for its supposed offense of “climate denial.”
Emails obtained under a public-records law show that the center submits detailed biweekly reports to Bloomberg Philanthropies. State legal officers taking money from private funders to pursue policy outcomes desired by those funders is inherently suspect. It also raises questions about the laws governing gifts, campaign contributions and bribes. To the extent these Bloomberg-funded lawyers are involved in prosecutions, it raises serious due-process concerns as well.
The NYU law center’s principal focuses are thwarting Trump administration policies and advancing a green agenda. “The gist is that Bloomberg is funding through NYU some fellowship positions for midcareer environmental litigators to be farmed out to State Attorneys General to join the fight against Trump’s rollback of our environmental protection laws and regulations,” wrote Maryland’s Deputy Attorney General Carolyn Quattrocki in a November 2017 email to colleagues. Bloomberg-funded lawyers are currently assisting in dozens of lawsuits against both the Trump administration’s regulatory reforms and private entities involved in any business contrary to the green agenda.
The office of New York’s then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asked the NYU center to send two Bloomberg-funded lawyers in 2017 because it was understaffed and wanted to “expand” litigation against the Trump administration and private parties. Without a privately underwritten special assistant attorney general, Mr. Schneiderman’s office claimed, it would have trouble “opposing the Scott Pruitt nomination as EPA administrator, advocating for the United States to remain in the Paris Climate Accord,” and pursuing other green political goals, such as “building models for two different types of common law cases to seek compensation and other relief for harm caused by fossil-fuel emissions.”
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s application got straight to the point. His office would use Bloomberg resources “to advance the agenda represented by” the donor. Only the intervention of the state Legislature stopped him from doing so.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, whom Bloomberg supported in a 2013 primary race and who served as the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center’s lead recruiter, heavily redacted his office’s request for Bloomberg resources, forcing the public-interest law firm Government Accountability and Oversight to file suit to obtain the full application. The suit revealed that Mr. Frosh requested a $125,000 salary plus benefits for his Bloomberg-funded special assistant. Mr. Frosh appointed the lawyer under his “pro bono special counsel” authority. The term “pro bono” is generally understood to mean that the client doesn’t pay the lawyer. But under Maryland law, as affirmed in the 2015 case State v. Westray, it also means “the attorney represents the client without compensation.” Mr. Frosh had no legal authority to enter this arrangement.
The scheme is more troubling the closer one looks. Mr. Bloomberg is a major donor to Democratic politicians and causes. He has made electing progressive attorneys general his priority. Two Bloomberg-funded groups, Independence USA PAC and Everytown USA for Gun Safety, put more than $2 million into electing and re-electing Mr. Herring.
The State Energy and Environmental Impact Center has placed at least 11 special assistants in eight attorney-general offices. There could be more, but the center has stopped announcing new placements, possibly as a result of scrutiny from groups like ours. If no other state joins Virginia in standing up to Mr. Bloomberg’s scheme, there is no limiting principle on partisan appropriation of public legal offices other than that the donor and the cause be acceptable in certain polite circles. These agreements to serve a donor-driven agenda threaten the legitimacy and important work of attorneys general offices. This apparent trade in buying and selling official functions demands a full public airing and unbiased reckoning.
Originally published in the Wall Street Journal here
Mr. Horner is an attorney and member of the board of directors of Government Accountability and Oversight PC. Ms. Toensing is a partner in the law firm diGenova & Toensing, which represents GAO in its lawsuit against the Maryland Attorney General.
FOIA suit seeks records concerning leaks, coordination of staff with outside parties, possible improper removal of records
For immediate release.
WASHINGTON, DC — Today, Government Accountability & Oversight, P.C. (GAO), filed suit against the Department of the Interior on behalf of the public policy transparency group Energy Policy Advocates (EPA). This federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit seeks records relating to the tenure of a senior Interior official who recently departed to work for the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations, a body which has ramped up investigations of its new hire’s former employer and colleagues.
EPA believes the information it seeks may be related to high-profile leaks out of Interior, and to certain aspects of and demands by those subsequent congressional investigations. There has been widespread media and public interest in those matters.
Chris Horner, who filed suit for GAO, noted that
“Today’s suit comes amid information, already in the public domain, suggesting a larger, coordinated effort under way to prompt investigations into individuals in numerous agencies including Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency.” Horner continued, “That campaign regularly alleges coordination by public officials with outside interests, seemingly to delegitimize all policy actions with which the particular officials are associated. Similarly, the records EPA seeks in this suit are of great public interest.”
That campaign also is occurring amid revelations of activist donors placing their own employees in law enforcement officesat the state level to pursue the donors’ agenda, attorneys general instigating investigations at the urging of plaintiffs’ lawyers, issues which GAO is at the forefront of exposing. Further, activists are ‘doxxing’ and otherwise harassing public employees who dare pursue policy reforms, reflecting a disturbing trend, discouraging qualified citizens with useful experience from entering public service. This proxy war also blocks reforms, with serious policy and legal implications.
Interior owed EPA responses to these requests in May, after having also afforded itself extensions of time. It has failed to provide any substantive response, prompting today’s suit.
Government Accountability & Oversight is a 501(c)3 non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to transparency in government on matters of energy, environment and law enforcement.
The lawsuit filed today is here:
GAO Files Suit against MA AG Healey for Refusing to Release Records re Bloomberg-Funded Special Assistant AGs, Tort Bar Instigation of Investigations
Secretary of State Named as Co-Defendant; Complaint Reveals Ex Parte Communications
Today, with local counsel Tim Cornell of Cornell Dolan, P.C., the public interest law firm Government Accountability & Oversight, P.C. (GAO) filed suit against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey under that state’s public records law on behalf of the nonprofit group Energy Policy Advocates (EPA). The suit seeks to compel the AG to release documents shedding light on the use of law enforcement to advance private interests.
The two matters at issue are AG Healey investigating private parties at the urging of the plaintiffs’ tort bar and environmental activists, and her work with billionaire activist and major Democratic Party donor Michael Bloomberg in his attempt to capture AG offices to pursue his ideological agenda. Since August 2018 Ms. Healey has led the recruiting of AGs for a “State Impact Center” Bloomberg created to hire and place “Special Assistant Attorneys General” (SAAGs), and provide other private resources and counsel, for friendly offices to pursue matters of concern to the donor.
Healey has brought two Bloomberg SAAGs into the Commonwealth’s top legal office, but to date her Office has refused to release records reflecting what it promised Bloomberg’s group in return, such as its “application”. These applications can be revealing — already Virginia’s legislature has acted to ban its AG, Mark Herring, from following through on his written promise to use his office “to advance the agenda represented by” Bloomberg’s group. GAO has filed suit against that Office seeking to obtain records relating to the breathtaking confession. Oregon’s legislative counsel has declared that the scheme violates state law. Maryland’s AG plainly violated state law in appointing its Bloomberg “SAAG”. The public deserves to see AG Healey’s statements made to a major party donor to obtain privately funded prosecutors.
Healey’s office also refuses to produce six pages of emails it acknowledges exist from the critical January – April 2016 period when plaintiffs’ lawyer Matt Pawa was recruiting for “a single sympathetic attorney general” to subpoena private parties’ records, and give the activists’ desired tort litigation campaign a lift. Mr. Pawa clearly found his two AGs in Ms. Healey and then-AG Eric Schneiderman of New York. Recently, the NY OAG similarly refused to let the public see five emails with Pawa from the same period by implausibly claiming Pawa is a “whistleblower”.
For its part, Healey’s office claims that releasing any details of these six pages of emails, even just the To, From and Date fields, would “impact” its climate investigations and current or planned litigation to the point of derailing it. This claim seems to prove far too much.
The Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Supervisor of Records is statutorily charged with reviewing administrative appeals of public records denials. As the complaint details, the Supervisor owed EPA a fair and transparent appellate process. It has refused to rule on EPA’s appeal for the emails with the tort bar about instigating AG Healey’s “climate” investigations. Emails and other records demonstrate that OAG successfully and repeatedly sought Ms. Murray ought to discuss those emails and OAG’s desire that they not be released for public inspection.
The complaint attaches documents EPA has obtained proving extensive ex parte communications between OAG and the Supervisor on the subject. The Secretary’s refusal to even rule on EPA’s appeal follows its bizarre self-reversal on the same emails, in a similar appeal, in the face of persistent behind the scenes pressure from OAG. OAG in turn relied on that reversal as its basis for denying EPA’s request. EPA details this in its complaint that therefore names both offices as defendants in this action.
The second ruling adverse to OAG occurred while OAG’s records officer, AAG Lorraine Tarrow, was out of town. Upon Ms. Tarrow returning to her Office to find this, the Supervisor of Records suddenly reversed its own thoughtful order which had detailed the appropriate law and precedent requiring release. This seemingly came out of the blue. Emails show that it did not.
Reflecting this culmination of OAG efforts to influence the Supervisor, AAG Tarrow, in an April 11, 2019 email to colleagues forwarding the reversal to colleagues, cryptically wrote of this remarkable turn of events, simply, “Any questions re: the route this determination took and/or the email below, let me know”.
GAO’s Chris Horner, who detailed the available evidence about both the plaintiffs’ and Bloomberg’s climate schemes in his August 2018 paper “Law Enforcement for Rent”, states, “Clearly, both Massachusetts’s and New York’s attorneys general are deeply concerned about the public learning more about how plaintiffs’ lawyers and activists influenced their pursuit of those who oppose a political agenda. It is just as clear that that is what these emails document.”
“I’m proud of the work EPA has already done bringing transparency to Attorneys General Offices across the nation,” said Matthew Hardin, Energy Policy Advocates’ Executive Director. “Now that we’ve been stonewalled in Massachusetts, even to the point of off-books discussions between the OAG and Records Supervisor, I’m glad we were able to team up with the experienced team at Government Accountability & Oversight P.C. to bring suit and shine the disinfectant of sunlight on these matters.”
Government Accountability & Oversight is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to transparency in public officials’ dealings on matters of energy, environment and law enforcement