Foundations and billionaires are using donations to place privately-funded employees in states offices. Why?
In the 20th century, liberal philanthropies strived to create programs that would be taken over by the state. But in this century, the left has a new goal: use philanthropy to fund the state.
An early example of this was the Rockefeller Foundation Resilient Cities program, which offered 100 cities around the world funds for a “chief resilience officer.” As Laura Bliss reports in City Lab, cities eagerly accepted Rockefeller’s foundation-funded freebie, in part because Rockefeller never told the cities what a resilience officer was supposed to do. This “unusually flexible” grant led Panama City, Florida to define “resilience” as something to do with mobility while Boston declared that fighting “structural racism” would make the city more resilient.
“100 Resilient Cities” was the pet project of Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin. When she was succeeded by Dr. Raj Shah in 2017, Dr. Shah questioned the cost of $30-40 million a year and asked if the program actually produced any results. Rockefeller announced that it would cut off funding to 100 Resilient Cities in August 2019, although it made a $30 million grant to the Atlantic Council to establish a “resilience center” and has allocated $12 million to help the 86 employees of 100 Resilient Cities find new jobs.
Environmentalists have also been successful in getting their employees placed in government offices, as has been shown in two lengthy reports by Christopher Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Horner, in my view, has unearthed one very serious breach of the wall between nonprofits and the state and another breach that is less serious but is still irritating.
The lesser offense Horner unearthed was an effort by the Hewlett Foundation, billionaire Tom Steyer, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the United Nations Foundation (whose principal patron is Ted Turner) to place foundation-funded staff members in the offices of governors. Horner identifies at least three governors—departed California governor Jerry Brown, and governors Jay Inslee of Washington and Andrew Cuomo of New York—who accepted these offers of free staff members. All three recipients of these funds are Democrats.
We’re not entirely sure what these staff members who work for governors do. We know, for example, that in 2017 Gov. Inslee hired former Obama administration official Reed Schuler to be senior policy advisor for climate and sustainability and that his salary was paid for by the Hewlett Foundation and the World Resources Institute. We also know that these staffers apparently do a lot of work as liaisons between governor’s offices and international organizations, and that others worked on the Global Climate Action Summit, an international conference sponsored by Gov. Brown and held in San Francisco last year, where the great and the good burned up titanic quantities of jet fuel and filled the Bay Area with excessive amounts of hot air and gas in their quest to save the planet.
What we don’t know is what else these foundation-funded special assistants did. Obviously, we have a right to know, since sunshine is the best disinfectant. But it’s fair to ask, what are Hewlett, Steyer, Bloomberg, and the U.N. Foundation trying to hide?
The more serious violation Horner unearthed is that green groups—and in particular, Michael Bloomberg—are placing staff members in the offices of state attorneys general to provide additional troops in the war between some state attorneys general and large oil companies—specifically, ExxonMobil—in a lawsuit that alleges that these companies knew about climate change and didn’t do anything about it. (I’ve written about this lawsuit for Philanthropy Daily on several occasions, most recently here.)
Horner’s report says that Bloomberg used the following method. In 2017, Bloomberg Philanthropies made a hefty donation to the New York University Law School to establish the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center. The Center’s director, former deputy interior secretary David Hayes, told the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin (in Eilperin’s paraphrase) that the Center “could not only support litigation against the federal government but also enforcement activities at the state level.”
The law school’s arrangement with state attorneys general, legally, is that of attorney and client. The attorney general’s office hires the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center to be its attorney. The center charges its client nothing but gives them a “special assistant attorney general” for up to two years for free.
But even though New York University paid the foundation-funded attorneys general, they are controlled by the state. Portland, Oregon resident Steve Novick was hired by New York University in June 2018 to work for the Oregon Department of Justice for two years for a salary of $146,896, where, his employment contract states, he was to be “under the direction of, and owe a duty of loyalty to” the Oregon Department of Justice. Horner unearthed emails from Oregon Attorney General that told her subordinates that even though Novick wasn’t being paid by the state, they should not tell the press he was a “volunteer.”
Horner discovered that the “special assistant attorneys general” were placed at least in Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia and that Pennsylvania and New Mexico thought about getting one but never completed their applications. The “special assistant” duties could encompass far more than litigation; the state of New York, applying for two attorneys, said among the tasks these attorneys could pursue were “opposing the Scott Pruitt nomination as EPA administrator, advocating the United States remain in the Paris climate accord.”
Since Horner released his report last year, the controversy over foundation funding of state attorneys general has roiled two other states. In February, Horner reports, the Virginia state legislature blocked that state’s attorney general from taking part in the program.
In August, Energy Policy Advocates sued the state of Minnesota, saying their hiring of a New York University lawyer violated state law. Doug Seaton, Energy Policy Advocates’ lawyer, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison “knows Minnesotans would be appalled if they found out a billionaire with a political agenda was able to purchase the AGs office by hiring and paying its lawyers.”
Seaton’s concerns are justified. There’s a vast difference between green groups having meetings with government officials and foundations paying attorneys general to use the power of the state to crush their enemies.
As Christopher C. Horner rightly concludes, the Bloomberg/New York University plan “represents private interests commandeering state police power to target opponents of their policy agendas.”