ST. PAUL — A conservative-leaning legal nonprofit representing a Washington-state energy policy group filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the Minnesota Attorney General's Office, alleging it denied the group data under the Data Practices Act and raising concerns about a billionaire businessman potentially influencing its work.
Doug Seaton, president of the Upper Midwest Law Center, said Energy Policy Advocates last year sought information from the attorney general's office but didn't receive or were denied certain correspondence. Seaton said the group wanted to probe connections between attorneys in the office and Michael Bloomberg, a businessman and philanthropist.
Seaton pointed to the LinkedIn profile of a special assistant attorney general which cites that the attorney is a fellow with the New York University School of Law's State Energy and Environment Impact Center and has been "embedded with the Minnesota Attorney General's office as an Environmental Litigator." Seaton said Energy Policy Advocates launched data requests in Minnesota and several other states to determine whether attorneys working as fellows and Bloomberg or others aiming to influence them corresponded about state work.
Bloomberg Philanthropies helped fund the State Energy and Environment Impact Center launch in 2017. The center says that it is non-partisan.
"This is not a fishing expedition because we know these lawyers are there, we have the evidence... that indicates there certainly are lawyers from the Bloomberg organization that are placed within the Attorney General's office," Seaton said. "We think this is a hijacking of a public office by someone who happens to be a very wealthy political donor who has his own political agenda to pursue."
The complaint says Energy Policy Advocates didn't get the information it asked for and was entitled to under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and asks the court to require the Attorney General's office to provide that information.
But Attorney General Keith Ellison said his office provided Energy Policy Advocates the data they requested, which was publicly available. He also said the group's lawsuit was without merit and he planned to respond.
Ellison also cited a separate law to justify bringing the State Energy and Environment Impact Center fellow on to work in his office. The legal fellow started working with the office in June and Ellison reached out to the school about taking on a fellow in March.
“Minnesotans are living with the effects of pollution, environmental injustice, and climate change every day, and they expect an Attorney General who enforces environmental law," Ellison said in a statement. "Minnesotans need all of the help we can get fighting the effects of climate change and keeping Minnesota’s air and water clean."