Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg faces increased scrutiny following his entrance into the Democratic presidential primary as lawmakers in the West bring bills to ensure that staff in state attorneys general offices are paid from the state treasury—rather than through the environmental law center Bloomberg established at NYU.

While the New Mexico legislative session ended at noon Thursday, a bill to require all attorneys in the state attorney general’s office to be paid from the state treasury had been taken up at the Roundhouse following years of suspected improper outside influence within that office. Introduced by House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, the bill was an attempt to prevent New Mexico’s attorney general from continuing to utilize two assistant attorneys general selected and paid for by Bloomberg through his legal fellows program launched several years earlier.

Montoya’s bill comes several months after state Attorney General Hector Balderas faced pressure from Western Wire and others about his use of attorneys paid for by a program funded by Bloomberg.

State Attorneys General Face Increased Scrutiny From Lawmakers Over Bloomberg Program

In 2017, Bloomberg provided a founding grant of nearly $6 million to create the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the New York University Law School. The center recruited attorneys to serve as special assistants in state offices around the country where they would help state AGs undertake environmental litigation that they’d otherwise not have time or staff funding for, including litigation against fossil fuel companies.

This arrangement has been facing increased scrutiny from legislators around the country. In Virginia, the state’s General Assembly inserted an amendment to the 2019 biennial budget requiring all state attorney general employees be paid solely with public funds.

Meanwhile, these special assistant attorneys general are helping in investigations and litigation work—including New York’s climate liability suit against Chevron, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil last fall. Gavin McCabe, a lawyer involved in the program, signed a 2018 amicus brief supporting New York City’s case against the energy companies.

Activist Attorneys Are Moving West

Western Wire first reported on the arrangement in Balderas’ office in September 2017. Since then, the program has grown into an invisible legal army helping to provide allied state attorneys general with “a supplemental in-house resource….on clean energy, climate change and environmental matters of regional and national importance.” Others have called it an instance of law enforcement for hire.

Balderas is one of at least 11 attorneys general selected by the center to receive two legal fellows—and one of the few serving in a major energy-producing state. Though they use the title “special assistant attorney general” and work in state offices, these attorneys were recruited and hired by Bloomberg’s NYU legal center, which also pays their salaries and benefits.

As Western Wire reported previously, Balderas is connected with the Green 20, a group of state attorneys general who have pursued environmental litigation. In the past, he allied himself with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and then-New York Attorney General Eric Scheniderman to rebut the Trump administration’s efforts to review or replace Obama-era environmental regulations.

Since then, both of the eastern states—which also received Bloomberg-funded attorneys–have filed lawsuits against energy companies.

Eventually, Balderas’ office was forced to respond, with a spokesman telling the Albuquerque Journal that the office had routinely hired attorneys funded by outside sources, such as legal settlements from anti-money laundering and mortgage cases and grants from the federal government. The office did not provide another example of an attorney funded by a private source, however.

“It’s shameful that these radical environmentalist special interests have access and are able to buy influence in Santa Fe,” Larry Behrens, Western State Director for Power the Future told Western Wire. Power the Future was one of the groups that sparred with Balderas last year over the special assistant attorney general program.

“Their boss is Bloomberg not the voters of the state,” he added of the special assistant attorneys general, before remarking that it was shameful that Montoya’s bill couldn’t even get a hearing.

Since Bloomberg announced his campaign for the presidency, the program has received additional scrutiny, including from Power the Future and Republican state attorneys general. Montoya’s bill is a sign that this same scrutiny is filtering into state legislatures as well.

“I think most New Mexicans once they find out what’s going on will be first surprised and then angered,” Behrens said. “The energy economy is the backbone of the New Mexico economy and for one of the top ten richest people in the world to try to buy their way into that will anger a lot of New Mexicans.”