GAO Files Suit for Document Detailing Maryland AG Brian Frosh’s Role In National Scandal
MD’S AG REFUSES TO RELEASE UNREDACTED APPLICATION TO BLOOMBERG GROUP DETAILING INTENDED POLITICAL USE OF OFFICE, CLEARLY ILLEGAL APPOINTMENT
(Washington, DC) — Today the public interest law firm Government Accountability & Oversight, P.C. (GAO) filed a Public Information Act (PIA) lawsuit against Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. Frosh is unlawfully hiding from the public what his Office (OAG) promised to a group funded by billionaire climate activist Michael Bloomberg, if that group would provide OAG with outside resources. Specifically, GAO seeks a single document, OAG’s “application for the purpose of hiring special assistant attorneys general (SAAGs)”, submitted to a “State Impact Center” created by Bloomberg for that specific purpose and whose initial recruiting email made clear the program would support AGs to pursue a political agenda — “advancing progressive clean energy, climate change, and environmental legal positions”.
As GAO’s complaint details, Frosh applied for a SAAG, plus additional Bloomberg-funded lawyers and public relations services. He suggested the group pay the SAAG a salary “as high as $125,000” per year. Bloomberg’s group then hired an individual, Josh Segal, as a “research fellow”, stating “Your annual base salary will be $125,000” plus benefits, to “be seconded to the Attorney General’s Office of the State of Maryland (“OAG”) as a Special Assistant Attorney General”.
Less than two weeks later, Frosh wrote to Segal stating “I am hereby appointing you as Pro Bono [sic] Assistant Counsel pursuant to my authority under State Government Article 6-105(f) and determination that this appointment is necessary to carry out the duties of my office”. Article 6-105(f) indeed requires any attorney brought on board under its authority to be “pro bono” — which as the complaint points out, the Maryland Courts define, and Bloomberg’s $125k-a-year position to “be seconded to the Attorney General’s Office of the State of Maryland (“OAG”) as a Special Assistant Attorney General” most definitely is not.
The Maryland AG purported to make an appointment for which he had no legal authority, and proceeded to claim he acted under an inapplicable authority. On its face this appointment is plainly unlawful. The public deserves to see what promises this Office made for these resources.
In response to GAO’s request for the Application to Bloomberg’s Center, AG Frosh released a heavily redacted version, insisting that much of what he promised Bloomberg’s group is privileged and not available for the public to see. Possibly due to what the document says about the unlawful nature of the arrangement, Maryland’s is the sole OAG to respond in this secretive fashion.
Other OAGs, recognizing that this document is not privileged for hiding from the public, have released applications containing highly unflattering and problematic aspects of their own arrangements. In New Mexico’s application for Bloomberg funds, Hector Balderas’s Office candidly professed its objective in using law enforcement: “the Office would work with the NYU Law Fellow to identify ‘pressure points’ on which litigation can be used to most effectively influence policy”. Even more legally and ethically troubling, Virginia’s OAG — now in court with GAO over its claim it has no record of any analysis of the legality or ethics of the arrangement — asked for financing “to advance the agenda represented by” Bloomberg’s activist group.
GAO emphasized in its complaint the heightened public interest in learning the totality of the representations Frosh made in soliciting an activist political donor’s financing of his Office’s activities.
These SAAGs have the same legal authority as the AG — that is, if they were engaged legally, which is now in serious doubt particularly in Maryland. Oregon’s Legislative Counsel has already noted in an opinion that the arrangement violates Oregon law (the Oregon AG has disregarded the opinion). Yesterday, Virginia’s General Assembly adopted more specific funding restrictions prohibiting its AG from participating, as he announced he was doing despite the Virginia Code plainly not allowing the arrangement.
“Maryland — unlike any other Office of Attorney General to date — has blacked out substantial portions of what it promised Bloomberg’s Center,” said Chris Horner, GAO Executive Director. “This is the latest episode reflecting a particular zeal for hiding from the public what it is up to with this scheme. AG Frosh’s Office was also the sole office to black out parts of the retainer and secondment agreements it signed with Bloomberg’s group. This was for naught, given that other OAGs were less secretive, and followed the law, revealing that the redactions were abusive, hiding details that are not privileged but merely viewed as embarrassing. Apparently OAG also views the “application” as particularly troubling, and GAO will continue to fight this in court until AG Frosh produces the information behind what on its face is an unlawful arrangement.”
GAO is represented in this matter by Brady Toensing of DiGenova & Toensing. Chris Horner has filed to appear on behalf of GAO Pro Hac Vice.
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