The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank, is suing the District of Columbia and the D.C. Attorney General’s Office for failing to produce legally requested documents under seven different Freedom of Information Act requests.
The requests date back to October 2016 and are related to D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine’s participation in a 2016 effort to investigate and prosecute opponents of progressive climate-change policies.
The records requests also seek information relating to Racine’s acceptance of a privately funded “special assistant attorney general” position with ties to billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, each of the seven records requests were acknowledged within 15 days, as required by law. But the release of the requested documents has been delayed by more than two years, “forc[ing] CEI to sue to bring these records into the light of day for public inspection.”
It’s generally known that Racine participated in the prosecutorial climate change program, which was first announced by former Vice President Al Gore at a Manhattan press conference in March 2016. But substantive details contained in the requested documents are being withheld.
Racine is by no means the only attorney general involved. FOIA requests across multiple states previously revealed details of a coordinated plan to fund legal experts through a Bloomberg-financed New York University program and embed them within the highest law-enforcement offices in compliant states.
“Public records obtained by CEI and other groups detail how the Bloomberg-funded scheme allows activist donors to pay to place prosecutors in attorneys general offices to ‘advanc[e] progressive clean energy, climate change, and environmental legal positions’ after failing to gain approval through the proper, democratic process,” CEI senior fellow Chris Horner said on Dec. 18.
The Bloomberg project was exposed in an August CEI report called “Law Enforcement for Rent: How Special Interests Fund Climate Policy through State Attorneys General.”
Based on documents obtained over a 2 1/2-year period, CEI researchers were able to show that a plan to wield state prosecutorial power against select climate-change targets was first implemented in 2012 when elite climate activists sought “a single sympathetic attorney general” to prosecute their agenda.
Soon, attorneys general began subpoenaing private parties in service to a campaign of aggressive climate litigation, the report says. The informal coalition eventually disbanded due to media pressure and public scrutiny stemming from CEI-obtained government records.
Bloomberg then reorganized the coalition in August 2017, with a $6 million seed grant to New York University Law School’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center. The grant was issued through Bloomberg Philanthropies, a charity controlled by the progressive billionaire.
According to CEI, the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center allows for donor activists to fund university “fellows” to provide pro bono, or taxpayer-free, legal services for state attorneys general.
The NYU program claims to be a nonpartisan project to help “state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks” relating to climate change. But the “Special Assistant Attorney General” fellows only operate in Democratic-controlled attorneys general offices across nine states and the District of Columbia, including New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania—making the already questionable arrangement exclusively partisan.
Campaign finance records show Bloomberg donated millions of dollars to Democratic attorney general campaigns in the recent midterm election cycle, in addition to his pledge to spend $80 million helping Democrats throughout the country. In October, Bloomberg re-registered as a Democrat amid expectations of a presidential run in 2020.
The Bloomberg-funded legal fellows also include members of progressive advocacy organizations such as the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council, while others served under Bloomberg’s New York City mayoral administration.
The operation seems to exist in a legal grey area, despite other evidence of bipartisan concern.
CEI-obtained records show former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman boasted to donors that the need for privately funded prosecutors was due in part to financial constraints relating to anti-Trump administration resistance efforts.
“Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had a leading and organizing role at every stage of the campaign this paper describes,” CEI explains in “Law Enforcement for Rent.”
Incoming New York Attorney General Letitia James, announced Dec. 12 that she will dedicate the office to pursuing wide-ranging investigations into President Donald Trump and his family.
According to a review of legal filings, the NYU-provided legal fellows have played a role in filing at least 130 regulatory, legal, and other challenges since 2017. The primary targets were reportedly energy companies and Trump administration policies relating to energy and the environment.
CEI contends that the Bloomberg-orchestrated prosecutorial activities present a serious problem of nonprofits being used as financial pass-through entities to support elected officials who will, in turn, use their government offices “to advance a specific set of policies favored by said donors.”
With respect to CEI’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against Attorney General Racine’s office and the D.C. government, Horner said, “Records that have been pried out of other OAGs to date show this and the aborted 2016 campaign, which led to CEI being subpoenaed, are both unprecedented, coordinated efforts between environmental groups, plaintiffs’ lawyers, and major liberal donors using nonprofit organizations to fund staff, research, legal work, and public relations to advance a partisan climate agenda.”
The FOIA lawsuit asks the D.C. Superior Court to order the production of all records requested in the think tank’s seven previous records requests.
“As CEI’s report made clear, this donor-funded scheme of law enforcement for rent raises both constitutional issues and ethical concerns and should be the subject of swift and serious legislative oversight,” the group said.