Brazenly using his office to advance a political agenda, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, together with the District of Columbia’s attorney general, filed a lawsuit in June alleging that Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, and the American Petroleum Institute conspired to hide the truth about climate change.
And Ellison is using attorneys funded by a private special interest group to do it, as the Washington Examiner and others have reported.
Without any credible evidence, Ellison is trying to label the oil and gas firms’ scientific inquiry and dialogue regarding climate change as a deceptive trade practice. As I see it, he is contorting the law in an attempt to suppress speech and debate.
But that’s not the only way Ellison is misusing his office. Public records obtained by Climate Litigation Watch show that Ellison hired special assistant attorneys general who are paid not by the state of Minnesota but by a special-interest group funded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg. He did so for the apparent purpose of advancing a far-left climate agenda.
This raises a host of legal and ethical questions.
As far back as 2018, the Wall Street Journal chronicled a program funded by Bloomberg to fund assistant positions in attorneys general offices. These “AGs for Rent,” as the Journal’s Editorial Board labeled them, are now at work in 10 states and the District of Columbia. Since 2017, this initiative has provided direct legal assistance to attorneys general on climate-change issues.
Among the Bloomberg-funded AGs for Rent are Peter Surdo and Leigh Currie, attorneys now embedded in the Minnesota attorney general’s office whose signatures are below Ellison’s on the lawsuit against the oil and gas firms. Ellison even singled out these two attorneys as “leading the work on the lawsuit” during the press conference announcing the suit.
The problems with this arrangement are obvious. State power should never be used to pursue private interests. Yet Ellison is marshaling the police powers of the state to pursue a private political agenda funded by Bloomberg. Who are Currie and Surdo really accountable to?
There’s also a question whether the arrangement complies with Minnesota law, which expressly prohibits executive-branch employees from receiving compensation from any source other than the state for their work on behalf of the state.
The bad news for Ellison doesn’t stop there. He’s been sued under Minnesota’s public-records law to force him to turn over documents showing he sought out activist attorneys and money to help him pursue his climate-related lawsuit. A revealing report from Climate Litigation Watch shows clearly that Ellison highlighted his interest in suing ExxonMobil and others when he applied to Bloomberg’s group for funding.
New information unearthed by Climate Litigation Watch also shows that embedded-attorney Currie is listed on the climate-activist group Climate Generation’s website as a past chair and current advisory board member. A Minnesota-based climate activist group, Fresh Energy, even boasts about lobbying Ellison to use Bloomberg’s guns-for-hire shortly after his swearing-in.
As the Wall Street Journal reported, Ellison’s lawsuit reads like “an ambitious politician’s attempt to cherry-pick from decades of debate on a shifting issue.”
That’s because it seems a lawsuit brought by far-left activists embedded in Ellison’s office to push a private agenda. Ellison should be focused on enforcing the law and protecting the rights of the people of Minnesota, not joining with private special interests to demonize Minnesota’s energy industry.
In my view, Ellison is using the Minnesota Attorney General’s office as a pawn in a national political scheme. It’s time government authorities get to the bottom of whether Ellison’s use of privately funded activist attorneys is consistent with state ethics rules and laws. The people of Minnesota deserve answers.
Doug Wardlow of Prior Lake, Minnesota, went to law school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., has been practicing law for 16 years, served as a Minnesota state representative from 2011 to 2013, and was the Republican nominee for Minnesota attorney general in 2018. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.