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George Mason University Should Obey Court, Release Public RICO-20 Records

Today, the Virginia Circuit Court in Richmond issued a ruling in our case under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA), Christopher Horner and Competitive Enterprise Institute v. George Mason University.  This is an important case in which we prevailed on all counts—seeking public records showing how the "RICO-20" group of academics used public funding to organize their call for a federal racketeering investigation of "corporations and other entities" who disagree with them. Their targets’ crime—dissenting from the party line on climate change. 

The suit was filed when George Mason University (GMU) falsely claimed that no such records existed in response to a VFOIA request from both me and CEI. We learned that claim was false when we received hundreds of pages of such records that were obviously on GMU's system, from two other taxpayer-funded, state universities that were more forthright in complying with their obligations under state open records laws.

These records included dozens of RICO-20 emails sent to or from GMU, and particularly RICO-20 co-ringleader Edward Maibach, expressly in his capacity as GMU Professor and Director of Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication. (According to GMU, Maibach teaches climate campaigning, very relevant to this case.) As the home of more RICO-20 signatories than any other entity, and being the instigator of the call to investigate political opponents, GMU’s records are of great public interest.  

Prior to arguing the case in February, we reviewed the responsive records under protective order (which for now remains in place). Once GMU finally did conduct a search for the records CEI requested, we provided numerous excerpts to the court to show why they should be released to the public. The court ruling released today states “the requested documents, including emails of Professor Maibach, are to be disclosed and provided pursuant to the” lawsuit.

These records are of even greater public interest today since state attorneys general are currently using RICO to go after “corporations and other entities,” in a combined effort announced last month. One email obtained by CEI expressed this was precisely the model the academics hoped to see replicated. We sent a letter notifying the court of this development on April 18, 2016. 

We prevailed on whether GMU conducted a search in response to the VFOIA request. In fact, GMU left it to the most conflicted party imaginable to solely decide whether he had any records, and did not actually search for records until the university was sued. And, of course, on the issue of whether a professor of climate campaigning, engaged in climate campaigning on GMU's taxpayer-funded system, did so related to his public position.

The answers to these questions appear to be obvious, and it now appears the court shares this belief, as reflected in today’s order. 

This is important for several reasons:

  1. It reaffirms the law's plain intent that publicly funded academics — who have increasingly inserted themselves into or otherwise become part of the policymaking apparatus — are subject to public records requests when they do so. That is, taxpayers have a right to see how their resources are being used in this way.
  2. GMU’s Maibach advised his colleagues, in emails produced by both the University of Washington and Florida State University, that “my mentor" was behind an earlier effort to “convince[] state AGs to prosecute" under RICO, now the model for advancing the climate campaign. Elsewhere, he pined for the big settlement that such a suit(s) would bring to underwrite the global warming industry… like his GMU Center for Climate Change Communication.
  3. For this and other reasons, records that were under the protective order are relevant to the state AGs campaign targeting opponents of the climate agenda generally, and specifically, opponents of renewables and proponents of “fossil fuels.” 

These must come out, as release of several of these emails will materially inform the public in this unfolding debate.

Unfortunately, it seems GMU has made the decision to throw in completely with the global warming industry. GMU immediately informed us it will move to block release of these important public records, appealing and thereby continuing to delay for as long as possible these records' entry into the public debate about the expanding RICO menace.

Notably, working with the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, I have seen in recent days that this is also plainly what the AGs have decided to do. Working together, state attorneys general have collectively ground to a halt further releases of records, seeking delays, withholding even invitations to a happy hour as privileged, and claiming undue burden to do what tiny Vermont was able to produce in a matter of days. To the AGs’ chagrin if great public education, that production (and a Wall Street Journal story) exposed these AGs’ collusion with green groups and contingency fee lawyers in organizing this campaign.

Have no doubt, this effort to delay is plainly related to the effort by state AGs the RICO-20 hoped to “convince to file suit” under RICO, from which academics and other activists would obtain a massive settlement to fund their industry. We have asked the court to instead dissolve the protective order, so we can release those very educational records in the GMU production, as ordered by the court.  

Delays notwithstanding, when these records come out, they will be of great assistance to a public trying to figure out a campaign by state AGs to use racketeering laws against political opponents. We look forward to discussing these in detail when the delay ends, one way or another.​