Embedded AG fellows raise concerns

Bloomberg nonprofit pays salaries of lawyers working for Dem AGs

A NONPROFIT BACKED with money from Michael Bloomberg is paying the salaries of 14 lawyers who are working on environmental and climate change issues for Democratic attorneys general around the country, including Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at the NYU School of Law, created in 2017 with $6 million in funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, has raised concerns in a handful of states about a private organization funding the pay of employees at a public law enforcement agency.

‘“It looked inappropriate to me, that someone could go to the AG and say, ‘Hey I want to fund two positions to bring lawsuits in an area I’m interested in,”’ said Cameron Macdonald, executive director of the Government Justice Center in New York, a conservative taxpayer watchdog group.

Macdonald filed a complaint with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, an oversight and compliance agency in New York, but heard nothing back. “This is like a workaround, allowing for AGs offices to bypass their legislatures to get funding for pet projects,” he said.

IN-DEPTH: ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY HAS FILED 44 LAWSUITS AGAINST THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION. 

In Virginia, the Republican-controlled General Assembly in Virginia responded to news reports about the program by inserting an amendment into this year’s state budget requiring those working for Attorney General Mark Herring to be paid solely with public funds.

A spokesman for the State Impact Center said the organization selected Herring’s office to participate in the program in December 2017, but he hasn’t actually hired any fellows yet.

In Oregon, a Republican state senator initiated an inquiry into Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s participation in the program, prompting the Legislative Counsel Committee, which conducts oversight of executive branch agencies, to declare that hiring a staff lawyer with third-party money violates state regulations.

In Massachusetts, Healey’s office is being sued by the nonprofit Energy Policy Advocates in Suffolk Superior Court over unreleased documents pertaining to the fellowships. The group is claiming the state’s public records law covers documents exchanged between Healey’s office and the State Impact Center. The group appears to be seeking the documents in connection with its interest in lawsuits involving Healey and ExxonMobil over climate change.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Healey’s office says the fellows who work in her office are paid $72,450 and $94,500 by the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. (They don’t show up on state payroll records.)

Healey said the fellows make quarterly reports back to the center, and her office is in communication with the organization regularly. “I would hope there is some sort of accounting or reckoning going back and forth on how various people are doing on their litigations,” she said, saying the fellows have worked out well. “They’re free. The fact that Michael Bloomberg and others came together through NYU Law School to provide additional resources in this space is a good thing,” she said.