Case could force Ellison to reveal talks with lawyers on Bloomberg’s payroll on climate lawsuits

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is fighting to prevent the public from seeing documents detailing his behind-closed-doors strategizing on climate litigation with a network of state attorneys general with embedded lawyers on billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s payroll. This is being closely watched around the country.

The Washington Free Beacon is on the case filed by American Experiment’s sister organization, the Upper Midwest Law Center, and currently awaiting action by the Minnesota Supreme Court on Ellison’s last-ditch attempt to avoid public disclosure.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in June that Ellison must release communications regarding his hiring of two private attorneys through Bloomberg’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center (SEEIC). Rather than turn over the documents, however, Ellison appealed the ruling to the state’s Supreme Court, lamenting that the decision would force his office to produce “internal privileged communications to any member of the public who requests it.”

…Bloomberg established the SEEIC in 2017 through a $6 million grant to the New York University School of Law. The center funds climate change litigation by paying to place environmental lawyers in attorney general offices across the country. Ellison applied to participate in the program in 2019, saying Bloomberg funds would provide his office with the “additional staffing necessary” to pursue “progressive clean energy, climate, and environmental matters of regional and national importance.”

Ellison’s staff in the Minnesota Attorney General’s office includes two outside attorneys funded by Bloomberg’s group specifically to concentrate on what the Upper Midwest Law Center calls his “war on traditional energy sources.”

Within three months of Ellison’s request, the SEEIC embedded two environmental attorneys in the Democrat’s office at an estimated annual cost of between $192,000 and $260,000, according to Ellison’s application. When nonprofit group Energy Policy Advocates sought communications from Ellison discussing the program, the Democrat refused, claiming the information was “nonpublic.”

The group sued Ellison in August 2019, arguing that the “public has a substantial interest in learning how private law firms are recruiting elected officials to further private goals.” Upper Midwest Law Center president Doug Seaton—who is representing Energy Policy Advocates—accused the Democrat of “covering his tracks” and stressed the need to “scrutinize the behavior of the attorney general’s office.”

“It’s critical that the citizens of Minnesota be able to know what the attorney general is doing, who he is working with, who he’s deputizing to be his assistants,” Seaton said. “We think this represents essentially a leasing out of the badge of the attorney general to third parties that have their own agenda.”

A year ago, Ellison filed a global warming lawsuit against Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute and Exxon Mobil, which the SEEIC highlights on its website.

Attorney General Ellison alleges that the defendants understood since the 1970s the devastating effects that their products would cause the climate, including Minnesota, but engaged in a highly-effective public-relations campaign to mislead Minnesotans about the consequences of using their product. During this period, Minnesota suffered billions of dollars of economic harm due to climate change, while the defendants reaped billions in profits by selling their products.   

The plaintiffs call Ellison’s office the most secretive of all the state attorneys general offices with Bloomberg’s climate change zealots on staff when it comes to disclosure.

“Keith Ellison has been the most secretive and anti-transparency Attorney General that our group has sought documents from in the entire nation,” said Chris Horner of Energy Policy Advocates. “We are grateful that the Court of Appeals has rejected his attempt to conceal his office’s activities, and we look forward to getting the documents we asked for more than two years ago. Hopefully after this decision, we won’t have to file lawsuits to get documents about which the public has a right to know.”

No doubt Ellison’s fellow attorneys general and their Bloomberg-funded cohorts hope the Minnesota Supreme Court rules against Ellison disclosing the nuts and bolts of their collaboration given the likely detrimental impact on their scheme moving forward.