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CEI Files FOIA Lawsuit Against George Mason University for Denying Existence of Records Related to RICO-20 Letter

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George Mason University (GMU) faculty claimed "no records" existed in response to a Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) FOIA request regarding the involvement of Professor Ed Maibach in the RICO-20 campaign seeking prosecution of opponents of his view of climate policy.  Yet, CEI has evidence of such records. This prompted CEI to sue GMU over the FOIA dispute, which aims to inform the public about the role of Maibach in organizing the campaign led by GMU Professor Jagadish Shukla calling for prosecution of their political opponents. 

Emails the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) obtained under the Washington State and Florida open records acts show Professor Maibach, a taxpayer-funded instructor of “how to mobilize populations to adopt behaviors and support public policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” used his University title, position and email account in the RICO-20 effort.  Numerous records provided by other state universities notwithstanding, GMU informed CEI that Prof. Maibach insisted he had no records responsive to the same request to that school.

Chris Horner, a plaintiff in the case and a senior fellow at CEI, said:

“GMU failed to adequately search for records related to RICO-20, instead entirely leaving the search to the most conflicted parties imaginable – the staff in question. Instead of producing records to the FOIA officer and arguing for exemptions, Prof. Maibach, according to GMU, informed them he had no such records.  Documents we obtained from two other schools so far show that to be untrue.  This is bad FOIA practice, but at least it illustrates to the public, and lawmakers, how this law is being abused and needs to be reformed. In the meantime, GMU must conduct an adequate search and produce all relevant documents to us.”

As CEI has previously explained, RICO-20 is a “September 1 letter from 20 climate scientists to President Barack Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and White House science adviser John Holdren requesting a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) investigation of “the fossil fuel industry and their supporters.” The scientists allege that the aforementioned interests “knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, in order to forestall America's response to climate change.”

In May, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) called for a RICO investigation of “fossil fuel companies and their allies.” The scientists “strongly endorse” Sen. Whitehouse’s proposal.  Documents provided by two universities so far suggest the RICO-20 recruited this support — not for any legislation, but for his call to prosecute political opponents — in consultation with Sen. Whitehouse.

CEI’s FOIA efforts extend to each university represented in the letter. Today’s FOIA lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court in the City of Richmond, Va. To view the filing and related documents, click here