By Phil Goldberg
An important debate has been simmering in a handful of states over the past few years about the ability of outside groups to use private funds to pay for government officials to pursue their preferred agendas. Since 2017, an organization financed with private money has been allowed to fund deputy attorney general positions in about a dozen states for the purpose of advancing that group’s mission. It deserves national attention – and widespread rebuke.
This pay-to-play arrangement is the brainchild of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, a project at New York University School of Law. For six years, the SEEIC has been recruiting and placing attorneys in state attorneys general offices – with about a dozen positions currently funded across the country. Currently, the SEEIC is advertising for special assistant attorneys general in New York and Wisconsin, and an assistant attorney general for the Environmental Law Bureau in Illinois.
The group pays their salaries with the expectation that they will bring litigations that advance the SEEIC’s agenda, which is included in the job description. As far as we know, staffing government offices around the country to advance a private political agenda has never been done before – certainly not at this scale. Public service is a public trust, and having privately paid employees of any kind subverts that trust. The same concern would apply if the paid-for government employees were in a governor’s or legislator’s office. It also is irrelevant which political or private interests they represent.
Read the full column here.