The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO for short, is a legal method used by the government to go after mob cartels and criminal organizations like the Hells Angles, Latin Kings, and Gambino crime family. Now add one more name to the list: the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The alleged crime? Being on the wrong side of a policy debate on climate change. A discussion panel was held by Rep. Mike Kelly (R- Pa.) today to educate congressional staff on the detrimental effects of stripping away free speech under the guise of RICO.
Speaking (left to right) were Heritage Foundation Senior Legal Fellow Hans von Spakovsky, CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman, and State Policy Network Senior Policy Advisor Jennifer Butler.
The panelists explained how the RICO investigation against free speech began with a coalition called Attorneys General United for Clean Power who joined forces to pursue action against those who disagree with them on climate change. The AGs’ mission is to “investigate whether fossil fuel companies misled investors and the public on the impact of climate change on their businesses.” As Sam Kazman explained, CEI was subpoenaed by one of these AGs for every document over a ten year period relating to climate change, including every statement, supporter letter (with addresses and information), and op-ed. Kazman pointed to the similarities between this case and the 1958 Supreme Court case NAACP v. Alabama, when Alabama wanted the information on every supporter and agent of the NAACP. CEI has successfully pushed back against the subpoena and had it dropped, but continues to pursue sanctions against the AG for violating the organization’s First Amendment rights.
Strategically, the plan for the AGs seemed to be to overwhelm organizations with a multitude of subpoenas within multiple jurisdictions harkening to SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation) lawsuits which seek to overwhelm the defendant with legal costs, intimidation, and exhaustion. Hans von Spakovsky also reiterated the point made by both Sam Kazman and Jennifer Butler that this is not litigation over who is right in the climate change debate but an action to “criminalize scientific dissent.”
History provides us with examples of figures being targeted by their government for disagreeing with the status quo. Galileo was famously arrested by the Inquisition for scientific dissent against popular opinion. Stalin’s government arrested those whose opinions differed from its leader. As Dr. Ivar Giaever, a Nobel Prize Winner for physics, declared, “Global warming really has become a new religion because you cannot discuss it.” If we are to avoid the extreme government actions that Galileo faced, government officials like these AGs should not have any role in policing dissent that is protected under the First Amendment.