On Wednesday, Virginia state Attorney General Mark Herring (D) was served with a lawsuit that questions the legality of his alleged involvement in a scheme that places environmental activists as assistants in his office whose salaries are paid by powerful, private sources. The lawsuit was filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institue to reveal the extent of Herring's involvement in climate change activism in which Democrat attorneys general from around the country have joined. The program is funded by billionaire never-Trumper and environmentalist Michael Bloomberg and his Center for State Impact through the New York University School of Law.
CEI lead investigator Chris Horner filed suit against the Virginia AG for repeated denials of Freedom of Information Act requests for documents that may confirm the state’s authority to hire environmental activists, paid billionaire Trump-critic and environmentalist Michael Bloomberg. According to Horner, Virginia state law allows assistant attorneys general to be paid only through state revenues.
While several state attorneys general from the Democratic party in states had taken advantage of the program, their participation is in question after facing an uptick in legal scrutinizing.
According to CEI Senior Fellow Chris Horner, it is “inconceivable” that Virginia was unaware that it could not legally use private funds for special attorneys to engage in a crusade over supposed climate change. The nonprofit CEI suspects that Virginia is withholding information about its involvement in an effort by more than 20 state attorneys general to sue the Trump administration and energy companies and block the current administration's energy policies.
To qualify for the program funded by climate activist Bloomberg, each of the attorneys general were required to certify that legality of their participation in their particular state. While a few states found statutes to enable the program and funding, Virginia supposedly looked at its code of professional responsibility and found no issues.
The aim of the lawsuit, which was filed in the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond, according to CEI, is to:
“Reconcile contradictory positions of the [Virginia] Office of Attorney General (OAG) regarding its claim to an activist donor that OAG has the legal authority to bring on board a Special Assistant Attorney General (SAAG) who is actually employed by that donor.
“Obtain records underlying that claim, and any relating to OAG’s review and determination of ethical matters inherent in entering the unprecedented, highly-conflicted arrangement which OAG sought in writing on September 15, 2017. OAG claims it has none."
See Exhibit 1 here.
See Exhibit 2 here.
See Exhibit 3 here.
A press release by CEI asserted that Virginia AG requested an attorney to be assigned to the office whose salary and benefits would be paid by a non-profit recently by Bloomberg to pursue from the bully pulpit of the OAG office “specific issues that are the focus of Mr. Bloomberg’s activism.”
Established at New York University, Bloomberg’s Center for State Impact accepted AG Herring’s request for funding for a “special prosecutor for climate and renewable energy,” according to CEI. The nonprofit went on to state: “The newly-minted position was set to be paid $81,500 per year, as an employee of Mr. Bloomberg’s Center, working on Center priorities out of Virginia’s AG Office.” The Center for State Impact refers to the special prosecutors as “research assistants.”
One of Bloomberg’s stipulations was that state attorneys general would commit their special assistants to “advancing progressive clean energy, climate change, and environmental legal positions” that are favored by Bloomberg. According to CEI’s petition, Virginia’s OAG certified it has legal authority to have non-employee attorneys on staff who are funded by Bloomberg advance a climate change agenda pushed by the Center. The petition to the court from CEI noted that Herring’s office also certified there are no gift or professional responsibility impediments. However, in response to CEI’s Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests, Virginia’s OAG claimed it has no records showing that it ever produced any such analysis, opinion, or conclusion supporting its legal assertions.
“Given the apparent prohibitions in the Virginia code against this arrangement, not to mention due process concerns, it is inconceivable the Commonwealth’s top legal office claimed authority to do this without considering whether it’s legal,” said CEI senior fellow Chris Horner, according to the release. “We seek confirmation if this is the case and to find out how the OAG could claim to have ‘no records’ responsive to these requests.”
Horner recently reported for CEI that Virginia is a constituent part of a campaign using AG offices, in coordination with major contributors (such as Bloomberg’s Center) and activist groups, to enforce a “policy agenda that the American people already rejected through the democratic process.” This is a reference to lawsuits filed by Democrat attorneys general in several states against Exxon for supposedly covering up the role of fossil fuels in what is regarded as climate change caused by human activity. In January, 27 of the state attorneys general in the United States will be Democrats. In an interview with Grist, Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson said that he and his fellow Democrat attorneys general are serving as a "legal chain of resistance" to President Donald Trump and his policies on fossil fuels and the environment.
Horner said, “This donor-funded scheme of law enforcement for hire, using public office to expend resources not appropriated or approved by the AGs’ legislatures, raises conflict, statutory and significant constitutional issues as well as ethics concerns. These serious concerns should be the subject of prompt and serious legislative oversight.”