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New Report: “Dangerous Trend” of Agenda-Driven Groups Paying Salaries of State Government Attorneys and Policy Employees

Farming out police powers of the state to private interest groups demonstrates a clear misuse of government authority. In a new report, the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) calls out arrangements where private agenda-driven groups embed attorneys and policy experts within state government offices.

The private groups pay the salaries of the attorneys and policy employees who, in turn, use their position in government to advocate the private group’s policy agenda. In particular, ATRA spotlights two groups: (1) the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center, which is housed at New York University School of Law and places these lawyers into state attorneys general offices solely to push climate litigation against manufacturers; and (2) the U.S. Climate Alliance, which partners with governments to adopt specific climate change-related public policies. The report examines the ethical and policy implications of these arrangements, concluding that if not addressed, they could spread beyond the climate change issue.

Here are some highlights from the report:

  • “[T]he fellowship program is designed to wage war on energy companies by placing lawyers funded by the Center in the offices of friendly attorneys general across the country, empowering them to bring climate change litigation.”
  • “Governmental use of staff paid for by nonprofits such as the Bloomberg-funded NYU State Energy & Environmental Impact Center and U.S. Climate Alliance raises significant conflict of interest concerns. As these individuals are compensated by the advocacy group that placed them in their role, there is an inherent conflict as to whether the staff member is working to advance the interests of the state or pushing an outside group’s agenda.”
  • “For obvious reasons, many states already have ethics laws in place that are intended to prohibit state officials and public employees from receiving compensation from sources other than the government when funds are intended to influence official actions. But state officials who hire staff paid by an outside entity either overlook or willfully ignore these laws.”
  • “No matter where one falls on the political spectrum, allowing wealthy individuals or privately supported advocacy groups to use government staff to push their agenda forward is a dangerous trend. It is contrary to principles of good government to allow hidden third parties to pull the strings of state litigation and public policy making.”
  • “There should be no question as to whether an assistant attorney general, a policy official within a governor’s administration, or other government employee serves the interests of the state or an advocacy group.”

The MAP and others have been vocal about the ethical questions plaguing the NYU program and urge, as the report does, that states follow the lead of Virginia and bar these arrangements. Manufacturers want to see action on climate issues, but that action should be transparent and collaborative.