Today the Competitive Enterprise Institute has released my colleague Chris Horner’s new study on how special interests have been buying influence in governors’ offices, “Government for Rent.” The shady arrangements he details between activist groups, major environmental donors, and government officials constitute an inappropriate contratcing out of government authority and deserve greater investigation by state legislators, many of whom are only just now finding out about the details.
Over the last few years, elected officials in states across the country have been secretly accepting funds from private donors to promote specific policies related to energy use and climate change. Led by a cadre of activist governors (and state attorneys general), these secret donations have funded employees working inside governors’ offices on projects dictated by these same undisclosed donors—rather than ones approved by voters or state legislatures.
Public records obtained via state freedom of information laws reveal the existence of a major climate litigation industry that funnels donor money to staff up, off the books, the offices of certain Democratic elected officials. These donations are coordinated by politically connected nonprofit organizations, which then keep a sizeable percentage of the cash for serving as middlemen.
This billion-dollar per year enterprise passes money through tax-exempt organizations to underwrite “support functions” for politicians like Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA), Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), and Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), who then use their offices to advocate for a particular policy agenda. Donations have underwritten event management and public relations firms, and senior, full-time staff members.
This approach raises serious questions about restrictions on and transparency regarding gifts to elected officials under various state laws. While the legality of this particular kind of funding has not yet been litigated in most states, it would likely have been inappropriate on the national level under the federal Antideficiency Act and similar statutes. Moreover, donors going to such lengths to avoid taking credit for these gifts suggest that they may themselves be skeptical of the legality—and at the very least the appearance and propriety—of these arrangements.
Horner has previously exposed similar arrangements with state law-enforcement officials in the study “Law Enforcement for Rent: How Special Interests Fund Climate Policy through State Attorneys General.” Privately funded projects run out of state attorney general offices include aggressive litigation to drive U.S. energy companies out of business and silencing dissent from advocacy groups who disagree with their goals.