A new report out by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) shows how Big Energy corporations paid huge sums of money in the form of political donations for up-close-and-personal access to America’s Republican Attorneys General. These AGs, whose job is to advocate for and protect the citizens of their state from crime and corruption, are prime targets of lobbyists from a wide array of special corporate interests. And targeted they are. A New York Times article in 2014 detailed just how cozy that relationship has become:
Attorneys general are now the object of aggressive pursuit by lobbyists and lawyers who use campaign contributions, personal appeals at lavish corporate-sponsored conferences and other means to push them to drop investigations, change policies, negotiate favorable settlements or pressure federal regulators, an investigation by The New York Times has found.
A robust industry of lobbyists and lawyers has blossomed as attorneys general have joined to conduct multistate investigations and pushed into areas as diverse as securities fraud and Internet crimes.
But unlike the lobbying rules covering other elected officials, there are few revolving-door restrictions or disclosure requirements governing state attorneys general, who serve as “the people’s lawyers” by protecting consumers and individual citizens.
The article details, for example, how Florida AG Pam Bondi was the recipient of corporate largesse. In a number of cases, potential lawsuits against the lobbyist’s clients were dropped.
The issue of AGs being essentially bought off by corporate interests in return for not pursuing legal action against them has come to the forefront in recent weeks when it was revealed that Bondi dropped legal action against Donald Trump and his “Trump University” in 2013 shortly after receiving an illegal $25,000 donation from the billionaire tycoon. He subsequently threw a lavish $3,000-per-person fundraiser for Bondi, as well.
At the time this was all going down, Bondi was the Chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). In 2014, Trump also made a substantial donation to that group as well.
The following year, our own AG Bill Schuette took the helm of RAGA, replacing Bondi as its Chair. This has led to questions regarding how much money Schuette has received from Trump. Progressive watchdog group Progress Michigan has a few questions for AG Schuette:
As chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association, Bill Schuette needs to come clean on the following questions:
1. Did Donald Trump’s contribution to RAGA grant him preferential treatment from any of the 27 Attorneys General who are members of the group?
2. Did Bill Schuette play a role in soliciting the contribution from Trump?
3. Did Trump’s money play a role in Bill Schuette’s early and robust cheerleading for Trump?
4. Is Bill Schuette running a pay-to-play operation at RAGA?
5. Will RAGA release any and all communications between RAGA officials and Donald Trump related to his contribution?
“Bill Schuette has already admitted to using personal email to conduct state business but he has refused to come clean about his work at RAGA,” [Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie] Scott continued. “Michiganders and all Americans deserve answers to the questions raised by this contribution.”
Schuette has also benefitted from corporate money funneled through RAGA calling into question his aggressive crusade to thwart the Obama administration’s efforts to curb pollution through their Clean Power Plan which aimed to “reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electrical power generation by 32 percent within twenty-five years relative to 2005 levels:
RAGA, which operates a 527 political organization at the national level, also set up a independent political action committee this year in Michigan that indirectly contributed to Schuette’s re-election.
The RAGA Michigan PAC reported $142,000 in contributions through October 20, including a $5,000 donation from business magnate Donald Trump. The RAGA PAC gave $72,000 to Decider PAC of Ann Arbor on September 8. Decider PAC then gave $68,000 to the Schuette campaign on September 19.
The CMD report shows just how far Big Energy corporations are willing to go to get Republican AGs to support their efforts to defeat further regulation of their industries:
According to materials reviewed by CMD, since 2015 RAGA has received at least $100,000 from ExxonMobil, $350,000 from Koch Industries, $85,000 from Southern Company, $378,250 from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), and $250,000 from Murray Energy. In total, fossil fuel interests, utilities and their trade groups have given more than $2.25 million to RAGA since 2015.
This immense amount of spending gave Big Energy lobbyists intimate access to the RAGA AGs:
Fossil fuel giants Murray Energy and Southern Company paid for meetings with Republican attorneys general to discuss their opposition to the Clean Power Plan less than two weeks before the same GOP officials petitioned federal courts to block the Obama administration’s signature climate proposal, according to private emails from state attorneys general obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy. The meetings took place at an August 2015 summit hosted by the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) in West Virginia, where attendees were offered the opportunity to meet with GOP attorneys general in exchange for financial donations to help reelect the Republican state prosecutors.
Confidential documents also reveal that some of the GOP attorneys general again discussed “the future of the fight to stop the Clean Power Plan” at a meeting of the Republican Attorneys General Association’s 501(c)(4) organization, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, this past April.
The previously unknown meetings and financial donations – revealed in copies of conference materials, most stamped “confidential,” that were emailed to state attorneys general who attended the summit and obtained by CMD through public records requests – offer the first look at the behind-the-scenes coordination between GOP attorneys general and the fossil fuel industry to undermine the implementation of the Clean Power Plan.
“State attorneys general are supposed to enforce the law and serve the public interest, but instead these Republican officials have hung a ‘For Sale’ sale on their door, and the fossil fuel industry proved to be the highest bidder,” said Nick Surgey, Research Director at the Center for Media and Democracy, a national watchdog group. “It’s no coincidence that GOP attorneys general have mounted an aggressive fight alongside the fossil fuel industry to block the Clean Power Plan – that appears to be exactly what the industry paid for. Together, these documents reveal a sustained pattern of collusion between the fossil fuel industry and the Republican attorneys general on climate change obstructionism.”
Attorneys general are “a captive audience” at the conferences, Surgey told Bloomberg News. “The corporations are paying a premium to RAGA for the benefit of being able to hold the AGs in a room and tell them what they want, tell them about their expectations, and at the same time — literally the same day — those AGs are asking the corporate representatives for money.”
Given that the federal lawsuit was filed by Republican AGs from 15 states (including Michigan) less than two weeks after these substantial donations were made to RAGA, the “pay-to-play”, quid pro quo accusations are hard to refute.
And sitting in the middle of it all is Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the Chair of RAGA.