A Virginia-based law firm is suing Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison for access to records revealing his use of attorneys financed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to engage in a climate crusade targeting oil companies.
The nonprofit Government Accountability & Oversight (GAO) filed a lawsuit Wednesday for records detailing how the Democratic attorney general is allegedly deploying Bloomberg-financed lawyers to advance a lawsuit his office leveled against the fossil fuel industry.
The firm’s complaint was filed on behalf of the nonprofit group Energy Policy Advocates.
This is the second lawsuit that GAO, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit launched in 2018, has filed against Ellison in the last two years.
The law firm’s complaint also reveals that the Minnesota attorney general entered into confidentiality agreements and so-called common interest agreements requiring his office to obtain the consent of the private attorneys before releasing public information about such climate lawsuits.
GAO attorney Chris Horner believes such contracts undermine open records laws and violate obligations of attorneys general to taxpayers.
“They likely are void as against public policy including that underlining open records laws, and probably violate obligations of state attorney generals to the people of their states by purporting to contract away the public’s right to access to public information such as is embodied in the MGDPA,” Horner said in a statement Wednesday.
The agreements cover records related to lawsuits two Special Assistant Attorneys General (SAAGs) inside Ellison’s office leveled against ExxonMobil. Ellison announced lawsuits targeting Exxon, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute over what he calls “a campaign of deception” on climate change.
SAAGs are placed in attorney general offices around the country by New York University’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center (SEEIC), which received $6 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies in 2018.
The NYU School of Law launched the group in 2017 to “identify and hire NYU Law Fellows who serve as special assistant attorneys general in state attorney general offices, focusing on clean energy, climate, and environmental matters,” according to the NYU Law website.
Ellison submitted an application for SAAGs in March 2019, according to the GAO lawsuit.
He expressed in the application a willingness to do more in certain areas of “known public interest to Bloomberg and his SEEIC,” the complaint stated.
Ellison’s application also suggested the attorney general intends on focusing on “multistate initiatives…including…supporting state-led efforts to investigate Exxon Mobil [sic].”
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