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Chairman Smith Turns Spotlight on RICO20 Ringleader

Who says climate politics is a battle between greedy corporations and idealistic scientists? In “The Climate Change 1%,” the Wall Street Journal reports that George Mason University climate science professor Jagadish Shukla ranks among the top 1% of U.S. income earners.

Specifically, in 2014, Shukla earned $511,410 by combining full-time salaries from both his GMU teaching gig and the Institute of Global Environment and Society (IGES), a non-profit organization he runs.

This is newsworthy because Shukla is the ringleader of a group of 20 university professors urging the Obama administration to launch a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) investigation of fossil fuel companies and their allies. The RICO20 allege that fossil fuel interests, driven by greed, “knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America's response to climate change.”

But come to find out, Shukla has quite an appetite for our tax dollars, and House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith this week raised questions about the propriety of Shukla’s finances.

Some key excerpts from Smith’s March 1 letter to the National Science Foundation Inspector General:

“IGES has apparently received $63 million from taxpayer funded grants since 2001, comprising over 98 percent of its total revenue. . . .Since 2001, as President of IGES, Dr. Shukla appears to have paid himself and his wife a total of $5.6 million in compensation—an excessive amount for a non-profit relying on taxpayer money.”

“It appears IGES may have improperly commingled taxpayer funds with private charitable contributions when it gifted $100,000 to an education charity in India funded by Dr. Shukla, the Institute for Global Education Equality of Opportunity and Prosperity, Inc.”

“The recent audit conducted by GMU appears to reveal that Dr. Shukla engaged in what is referred to as ‘double dipping.’ In other words, he received his full salary at GMU, while working full time at IGES and receiving a full salary there. This practice may have violated GMU's university policy, his employment contract with the university, and Virginia state law.”

Back in October, Smith noted a deeper impropriety: Shukla’s non-profit “appears to be almost fully funded by taxpayer money while simultaneously participating in partisan political activity by requesting a RICO investigation of companies and organizations that disagree with the Obama Administration on climate change.”

Actually, the conflict of interest goes beyond the fact that the requested RICO investigation would protect the RICO20’s federal grants gravy train by chilling speech and silencing climate skeptics.

As my colleague Chris Horner points out, the model for the RICO20’s campaign is the Justice Department’s RICO prosecution of tobacco companies during 1999-2006, which resulted in big damage awards for trial lawyers and advocacy organizations.

What’s amazing, though, is not that the climate establishment seeks to enrich itself by prosecuting dissenters, but that they have no clue how easily their accusations can be flipped.

They accuse fossil fuel companies of hiding climate risks from the American people (laughable given the billions in annual government, pressure group, and media spending on climate advocacy). Yet, they refuse to acknowledge that their agenda, which would put an energy-starved world on an energy diet, poses any risk to the world’s people, especially the poorest of the poor. The linkages between access to affordable energy, prosperity, and public health are well known and, indeed, incontrovertible. By hiding climate policy risks, Shukla and his allies knowingly deceive the American people.

Criminalizing policy differences is a bad idea. By their own criteria, however, the RICO20 are guilty of racketeering. Prosecutors in such a case would ask: “How much money did you receive in federal grants while you deceived Congress and the public about the perils of restricting global access to affordable energy?”

For a more detailed discussion, see my post, "Are the RICO20 Guilty of Racketeering?"