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 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.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.