CEI Defeats RICO-20 Ringleader In FOIA Lawsuit


The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) prevailed in a Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA) lawsuit against George Mason University (GMU). The VFOIA request sought public records showing how the "RICO-20" group of academics, using public funding, organized their call for a federal racketeering investigation of "corporations and other entities" who disagreed with them on climate policy. 

The judge ruled for CEI on all counts in an April 22 ruling in Christopher Horner and CEI v. George Mason University that the court released today. The ruling concluded that by leaving it to faculty who simply told the school’s FOIA officer they had no responsive records, GMU failed to conduct an adequate search; the judge also ruled that documents including emails from GMU Professor Ed Maibach must be released to CEI.

“This victory puts on notice those academics who have increasingly inserted themselves into politics, that they cannot use taxpayer-funded positions to go after those who disagree with them and expect to hide it,” said Chris Horner, CEI fellow and co-plaintiff. “These records are highly relevant to the state attorneys general campaign that these academics hoped for, and will be of great assistance to the public in trying to understand how their tax dollars are being used for political fights.” 

In 2015, George Mason University (GMU) faculty claimed "no records" existed in response to CEI  VFOIA request for records regarding Professor Ed Maibach’s role as a ringleader of the RICO-20 campaign.  Other universities provided proof that the “no records” claim was not true, which prompted CEI to sue GMU over the FOIA dispute.

The RICO-20, including six GMU faculty, wrote 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.” CEI’s FOIA efforts extend to each public university represented in the letter. GMU is not the only school to falsely claim “no records” existed.

In May 2015, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) called for a RICO investigation of “fossil fuel companies and their allies.” The academics “strongly endorse” Sen. Whitehouse’s proposal.  Documents provided by two universities suggest the RICO-20 recruited this support, not for any legislation, but for his call to prosecute political opponents, in consultation with Sen. Whitehouse.

In April, 2016, CEI was subpoenaed by the Attorney General of the U.S. Virgin Islands for a decade’s worth of climate policy related work. CEI is vigorously fighting the subpoena, which is an attack on its First Amendment rights.