Bloomberg’s Invisible Legal Army Takes Shape
An army of lawyers whose mission is to stop President Trump’s agenda are being embedded, sometimes very quietly, in state attorneys general (AG) offices across the country. These lawyers are bought and paid for by one of America’s most notable billionaires and political activists, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. And now we know their program is fully operational.
Bloomberg’s campaign launched in August 2017 and is being funneled through the New York University Law School’s new State Energy and Environmental Impact Center (SEEIC). According to its website, the center “supports state attorneys general in defending and promoting clean energy, climate and environmental laws and policies.” Unsurprisingly, Bloomberg’s legal army is led by a former Obama and Clinton administration official named David Hayes. The advisory council lists Clinton/Obama alumni Bruce Babbitt as well as Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Daniel Firger.
A central goal of the project is to foster a “fellows program” that will “provide a supplemental, in-house resource to attorneys general and their senior staffs on clean energy, climate change and environmental matters of regional and national importance.” While the fellows work in state attorneys general offices on government business, their salary and benefits are provided for by SEEIC. The website notes in-state funding challenges for these offices as motivation for building the project: “Unfortunately, in some states, state attorneys general have limited in-house resources available to address complex energy and environmental matters.”
The program’s existence was first reported on back in August 2017 by Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post. At that time, Hayes told the Post that the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center had received a grant of $6 million and that it would be used, according to the Post, “not only [for] litigation against the federal government but also enforcement activities on the state level.”
Recently while attending a panel discussion held at Columbia University as part of the New York Climate Week, I asked Hayes to provide the current status of the program. Hayes was speaking as a panelist alongside top lawyers in the New York Attorney General’s office and New York City Mayor’s office, as well as attorneys representing other municipalities currently suing energy companies for climate change. Hayes confirmed that the Bloomberg program is being channeled through the nation’s Capital, not NYU, as there “will be seven people in Washington, D.C., about five lawyers and two communications folks, to help coordinate the progressive positions of AGs and help amplify what we are doing with communications.”
Hayes provided even more details about the growing number in the army of legal fellows infiltrating AG offices in states across the country. “We also have funding for about 15 special assistant AGs, who are hired by AGs based on applications, to two-year fellowships. The lawyers work in the AG’s offices. Their duty and loyalty is to the AG, they don’t report to NYU,” Hayes said. “And that’s worked out very well. We have a couple special assistant AGs in New York and Massachusetts, we have two in New Mexico, one in Oregon, one in Washington State, two in Maryland, one in D.C. It’s provided force extension for the AGs that are committed to progressive positions like clean energy, climate and environmental issues.”
In fact, by contract the AGs make clear they do not hire these “special assistant AGs”; Bloomberg’s Center does. And what a remarkable statement by the Executive Director, noting that these legal fellows, whose application process goes through the NYU Law School, have no actual relationship to the school, except, of course, through their Bloomberg-funded paychecks. Hayes’ statement that these AGs offices will be aided by a full-time communications shop in Washington, D.C., to promote their ongoing attacks against the Trump administration should also raise eyebrows.
Now consider how this Bloomberg program might work in practice. A recent report compiled by Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute outlines the nature of this dynamic, namely that these attorneys are placed into state AG offices, to work and report back to Hayes on official state AG business.
In a similar vein, the report also reveals that another wealthy environmental activist, Wendy Abrams, who serves on the board of the Union of Concerned Scientists and founded her own legal center at the University of Chicago School of Law, was able to arrange a meeting with the Illinois Attorney General’s office to discuss launching an investigation against energy companies over climate change. Abrams asked to bring along Steve Berman to the meeting, a partner with Hagens Berman, the lead firm urging AGs and cities to bring forward investigations and lawsuits against energy companies. And yes, the Illinois AG’s office has also been awarded a “legal fellow” from the Bloomberg program.
Additional emails obtained by Horner show that not all AGs want their constituents to know about their involvement. In New Mexico, for example, Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office made sure that the Bloomberg fellowship program didn’t get too much attention in the state. In correspondence uncovered by Horner, Balderas’ office and Hayes coordinated to avoid seeking press attention to the collaboration—an effort to move away from sunshine and transparency. Meanwhile, back in D.C., Balderas has become a media darling, as profiled by inside the beltway publications that call him a “street fighter.”
These are arguably very substantial in-kind donations to aspiring attorneys general. One also might suspect Bloomberg and other wealthy environmental activists are looking to grow this invisible legal army through the midterm elections. Real Clear Politics found that Bloomberg has donated big money to the Democratic Attorney General Association as well as several million more to other groups giving to Democratic AG candidates. But how much more will he give between now and Election Day?
What is clear is that Bloomberg’s invisible army is on the march and growing. Especially during election season, questions should be raised about these unprecedented relationships and outside influences. Should wealthy activists really be able to fund “special assistant attorneys general” in state law enforcement offices across the country based on political ideology? The first step is putting the spotlight on the insidious campaign and ramifications of a billionaire’s attempt to usurp state AGs’ offices for political and partisan gain.