A Bloomberg-funded environmental group paid the salaries of two lawyers who were named “Special Assistant Attorneys General” in the office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who could be forced to hand over documents related to the controversy.
In May 2019, Ellison’s office attained the services of two lawyers dedicated to “advancing progressive clean energy, climate change, and environmental legal positions.” These attorneys went on to lead the AG’s 2020 legal charge against ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute.
Now, Minnesota Republicans are considering an official investigation into their state’s attorney general as information has surfaced that shows Ellison’s star climate lawyers were strategically embedded by a left-wing group controlled by billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg Philanthropies backs New York University School of Law’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center (SEEIC). The center was created in 2017 to support litigation against former President Donald Trump. Its day-to-day operations are managed by David Hayes, who was a high-ranking official in both the Clinton and Obama administrations.
Since its inception, the SEEIC has set its sights squarely on state attorneys general to push its agenda.
“State attorneys general have a unique role,” Hayes said at the center’s launch, per a press release. “We look forward to working in close cooperation with state attorneys general around the country to support their efforts to address complex energy and environmental matters.”
The SEEIC seems to have hit its mark in Minnesota when Ellison provided it with full access to the power of his office, asking the center to fund the salaries of embedded climate lawyers Pete Surdo and Leigh Currie. These two received the title of “Special Assistant Attorneys General” in May and July of 2019, respectively.
Although the lawyers’ agreement with the state barred them from making any attempt “to carry on propaganda, or otherwise attempt to influence any specific legislation” or coordinate with legislators, no prohibition on exercising a political agenda with the AG’s office seems to exist.
Doug Seaton, founder and president of the Upper Midwest Law Center, said Surdo and Currie were illegally positioned.
“Ellison has exceeded his authority and violated the law and the attorneys’ code of ethics by allowing attorneys with a third party determined agenda, paid by that third party, a political donor, to operate as ‘Special Assistant Attorneys General,’” he told Legal Newsline.
Minnesota Statute 8.06 seems to support Seaton’s position, stating that the AG must always represent the state himself unless the AG and chief justice establish a written agreement that says otherwise, or if the governor deems the AG has personal interests that contradict the state on a given case.
Seaton says these narrow exceptions are not applicable in this case, per Legal Newsline.
The University of Minnesota is also involved with Ellison and the SEEIC. Fresh Energy is a Minnesota-based climate activist group that seems to have connected Ellison and the SEEIC in a series of conversations that involved Professor Alexandra Klass.
“I’m super excited about this project,” Fresh Energy Executive Director Michael Noble wrote to Klass in a 2018 email. The project in question was the now-executed lawsuits against oil companies.
“I think the politics of the day will give him cover,” Noble continued, referencing Ellison. “I’ll call the folks in NY [CCI] and we’ll get the whole team on a call,” he concluded in an email obtained by Government Accountability and Oversight (GAO).
Klass and Noble continued to coordinate at least into 2019, when another email publicized by GAO shows the activist telling the professor that “it’s all final and in front of Keith,” referring to plans for activist-backed legal action.
GAO also obtained a 2019 memo Fresh Energy sent to Ellison titled “Potential Lawsuit against Fossil Fuel Companies for Minnesota Climate Change Damages,” which further demonstrates activist involvement with the AG’s climate efforts.
Additional emails show that smaller activists and groups had a hand in Ellison’s third-party climate agenda, including Winona LaDuke. LaDuke is a controversy-laden climate activist who is a favorite among Minnesota liberals like Rep. Ilhan Omar.
Now, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has issued a decision that may require Ellison to publicize documents related to the matter that he has kept hidden. Ellison must provide “real descriptions and evidence” to justify keeping the documents from the public, according to a press release from the Upper Midwest Law Center.
“We are confident that the attorney general will now be held accountable to the public for renting out the constitutional office of the attorney general to extremist climate change activists,” Seaton stated.