Attorney General Keith Ellison is being sued by a group with ties to the fossil fuel industry in a case related to Ellison's office hiring an environmental lawyer paid for by a nonprofit group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg, a major donor to Democratic candidates around the country and a strong advocate for gun control and reversing climate change, established the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center in 2017. It is housed at NYU School of Law to "support state attorneys general in defending and promoting clean energy, climate and environmental laws and policies," according to its website.
Doug Seaton, a local lawyer for conservative causes who is representing Energy Policy Advocates in the case, likened Ellison hiring a lawyer with Bloomberg's money to the Department of Human Services installing an insurance executive in its management suite.
"Attorney General Ellison knows Minnesotans would be appalled if they found out a billionaire with a political agenda was able to purchase the AG's office by hiring and paying its lawyers," Seaton said.
Ellison called the lawsuit "without merit."
"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. "My office is happy to accept the assistance of New York University Law School to help me advance the cause of environmental stewardship."
Seaton presented information at a Wednesday news conference showing Ellison's office hired a lawyer named Pete Surdo, who is an NYU Law Fellow, which means the school pays his salary while he works on environmental issues in Ellison's office.
The litigation filed Wednesday seeks public records related to Surdo's hiring.
Ellison said in his statement that his office "has provided the plaintiffs all the publicly-available data they have requested under the law, as we do for everyone."
Christopher Gray, a spokesman for the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at NYU, said attorneys general who hire the fellows are required to be "consistent with ethical and legal strictures, and the NYU Law fellow's sole loyalty is to the office for which she or he works. We have no oversight over their day to day duties."
Seaton's client, Energy Policy Advocates, includes on its board longtime coal lawyer Mike Gardner, according to the group's website.
Christopher Horner, a D.C. lawyer also representing Energy Policy Advocates in the case filed Wednesday, published a book in 2008 called "Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud and Deception to Keep You Misinformed."