By: Mark Glennon*
Billionaire presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg is funding a program that, if it sets a precedent, would take the American legal system in a terrifying direction.
It would be a system in which the rich and special interests can pay for the right to plant their chosen lawyers in state attorney general and law enforcement offices to promote their agenda.
It would be a system in which, for example, the National Rifle Association could pay to have its lawyers, in a state’s name, help litigate to protect its favored legislation. Or in which George Soros could pay for attorneys in law enforcement offices to implement his views on criminal justice. Or in which Donald Trump’s businesses could finance lawyers, deputized by states, to fight off challenges to his immigration policies.
All that, and anything similar you can think of, is perfectly sensible if you think what billionaire presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg is doing is acceptable.
Yesterday we summarized reports on how Bloomberg is paying salaries of lawyers who promote his agenda in attorney general offices in liberal leaning states, including Illinois.
Those reports, however, are not getting the attention they deserve.
Bloomberg’s money funds the salaries of Special Assistant Attorneys General (SAAGs) in 10 Democratic AG offices, according to Fox News and other sources. Funding runs through the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at New York University School of Law. That center, according to Fox, was started in 2017 with $5.6 million from Bloomberg’s nonprofit. It hires mid-career lawyers as “research fellows” before providing them to state AGs — where they assist in pursuing “progressive” environmental policy goals through the courts.
Illinois was among those states, but according to a recent report by WLDS/WEAI, “llinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office responded to an inquiry about any lawyers connected to Environmental Impact Center saying that they have employed fellows to New York University’s School of Law in the past, but none were currently working in the department.”
Criticism of the program has come mostly from Republican attorneys general, but it defies imagination how anybody in any party, or NYU’s law school that hosts the program, can defend the practice. It’s justice for sale — an unconscionable way for anybody with money to rent the badge of a government legal officer. Everybody of any political stripe should shutter at the precedent it could set.
Consider how attorneys get placed through the program and it’s evident how corrupting it could be. According to the New American, in a 2017 email to state attorneys general, the head of the Impact Center at NYU set forth the qualifications for AGs seeking to hire SAAGs: “The opportunity to potentially hire an NYU Fellow is open to all state attorneys general who demonstrate a need and commitment to defending environmental values and advancing progressive clean energy, climate change, and environmental legal positions,” he wrote.
In other words, pursue their agenda and they will give AGs free lawyers to help. AGs have tight budgets like everybody else. Like other politicians, they also like more headlines on more crusades. What’s not to like about that offer, as long as they are in a state they think is roughly aligned politically with the program’s agenda? Independent legal judgement on the specifics gets sidelined in favor of more firepower for free.
Bloomberg’s candidacy for president makes the concept particularly pernicious in his case. The Bloomberg-financed program is – no surprise — anti-Trump. According to the New American, “In public and in private, the State Impact Center and its associates show a bias against the Trump administration. For example, the organization’s website celebrates the fact that state AGs have taken more than 300 legal actions against this administration since President Trump took office.”
Never Trumpers may be thrilled with that, but if Bloomberg’s approach becomes acceptable they’ll be on the other end in states favoring Trump. And aside from Trump, who knows what positions somebody will be willing to pay an AG to agitate for.
The immediate solution should be obvious. All attorneys general and law enforcement authorities should terminate Bloomberg’s program or anything like it.
In Illinois, where Raoul says Bloomberg’s lawyers are now gone, his office seemed to defend the program, telling WLDS/WEAI that “Regardless of the law school with which the fellowship is affiliated, attorneys work to advance the office’s mission, including the Attorney General’s commitment to protecting public health and preserving Illinois’ environment and natural resources for all who live and work in Illinois.”
No. The program or anything similar is fundamentally inappropriate for any law enforcement agency.
New York University should be ridiculed to no end for sponsoring it. And Bloomberg should be told to butt out of AG offices.
This article was updated to reflect the WLDS/WEAI report on Illinois’ A.G.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.