As Climate Litigation Watch readers are aware, the halcyon days of ‘green’ megadonors staffing government offices with no questions asked have come to an end. The Bloomberg-backed State Impact Center at New York University, rolled out with thoroughly incurious promotion by the Washington Post, has had its scheme questioned not only in this and other similarly minded outlets, but also in several state courts. The pressure has gotten to point that the Center has gone from boasting to keeping new ’embeds’ and entanglements on the hush-hush.
Despite the setbacks the State Impact Center has encountered – in addition to the Omertà, Virginia and Pennsylvania AGs eagerly leapt to seize the arrangement only to flee the deal under scrutiny – the climate change industry persists.
Thanks to open records requests by the transparency group Energy Policy Advocates (EPA), we now know that donors also are privately hiring and placing “staff” in regulatory agencies and governors’ offices.
The vehicle created for the task is the “US Climate Alliance” (USCA). USCA still apparently doesn’t actually exist in any corporeal sense but, as CLW posted earlier this week, for a group that doesn’t exist USCA has an awful lot of staff, led by an Executive Director coordinating legions of consultants and “pass-throughs”.
What better means to provide non-staff staff than a non-existent entity? (imagine the Cooler Heads Coalition “placing” non-staff “Cooler Heads Fellows” in governors’ offices paid for by Big Oil to push the latter’s interests. Surely that, too, is ok?).
The scheme is called the USCA State Climate Leaders Fellowship (USCA Fellows). According to an April 19, 2019 concept paper, the USCA Fellows “would fill critical staffing constraints for leading states by providing additional staff resources to deliver specific outcomes as determined by each state. USCA Fellows would be selected by, and embedded with, governors’ offices or delegated agencies to ensure they support the state’s priorities.”
This is reminiscent of the early-stage discussions in which Gov. Jerry Brown aide Aimee Barnes wrote to colleagues, about getting off-books staff and consultants, “it can’t always be us staff” doing the work of staff. It is an extension of the off-books army of consultants, to a dodgy scheme – whose apparent pilot-program in Gov. Jay Inslee’s office – previously chronicled by the Wall Street Journal editorial page in “Climate of Unaccountability”.
The selection of these fellows is to be based upon criteria such as results expected in a two-year period, placement that “demonstrates sufficient integration with and reporting to decision-makers” (ensuring they’re placed high enough in public offices to be worth the donors’ while), and the history of the state’s engagement with the Alliance.
Even accepting, arguendo, the wisdom of dedicating an individual state’s resources to compliance with the Paris climate treaty, the USCA Fellows program is bedeviled by the baggage of so many dollars running through so many pass-throughs, just to make sure the donors of those dollars see their agenda acted on by public officials.
Early emails reflected awareness of (unspecified) “risks” to participating offices.
Regardless, we know so far that the Governors of New Mexico, Vermont and Virginia leapt at the offer. Who has consummated remains an open question, and the subject of further open records requests.
Acknowledging “the varying rules across Alliance states on receipt of grant funds”, the concept paper provides several options for financing the non-staff staff, including, in order of preference, sub-grants to the state agency, a consultant structure, an inter-governmental partnership with a university, and secondment agreements (Bloomberg’s pass-through model).
That the USCA provided four different models is a tacit admission of the crucial fact that Bloomberg’s State Impact Center encountered: inserting a privately funded employee into a position of public power just may be illegal (On its face, this increasing use of public office to further private aims raises Hobbs Act and Honest Services Fraud issues, as well as gift, campaign and reporting questions).
In a May 10, 2019 email, USCA Executive Director Julie Cerqueria admits to Kathleen Frangione and Jane Cohen of New Jersey that “[b]efore proceeding, I’d like to figure out the benefits and risks of having this kind of program at the Alliance.” She continues “[are] there any concerns you have with the Alliance launching this program? We are planning to do a legal review for any state interested in applying…I’d appreciate having your (or your counsel’s) understanding of any legal parameters we have to be aware of. If you know of any specific laws and can send that to us, that’d be even better.”
Bloomberg’s outfit also wrote to participants about scrutinizing the legality and ethics of its scheme, but public record productions indicate it actually didn’t go much beyond assuming it would be fine and anyway left it to each AG to promise it was legal.
A new factor not present in Bloomberg’s scheme is the issue of how funds pass through a pass-through that doesn’t actually exist – for example, at least since 9/11 you need to exist to have a bank account, from which one would pay Executive Directors, “embeds” and the like.
Scrutiny of these private arrangements with public offices is a public right, if one makes participants uncomfortable. We saw this when the WSJ inquired into the arrangement at the heart of “Government for Rent”: Hewlett gave money to another group to hire and place Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s energy/climate advisor. Public records show that Office was not entirely forthcoming in its representations to the WSJ’s questions about its own knowledge of the funding source, playing dumb when numerous emails show its full and complete knowledge.
“Government for Rent” also released public records indicating Hewlett had a budget and desire to place more such non-staff “staff”. That may be what we are seeing with these “USCA Fellows”, although emails indicate that they are being specifically funded by new donors.
We are seeing the fruits of privately funded government unfold in New York City during “Climate Week”. The public should know what it is they are really watching – the results of outsourcing activist government to activist donors – and how what they are watching came to pass.