A little more than a year ago, Minnesota was hit with a sudden rash of children with toxic levels of lead in their blood. Lead poisoning in children can lead to permanent brain damage and other serious, lifelong consequences. Those poisoned kids' parents all worked at Water Gremlin, a lead-processing plant in White Bear Lake.
Attorneys from my office jumped in. They won an emergency order in court to keep lead from leaving Water Gremlin's facility. When the company appealed, these attorneys won again. Their quick work meant that those children, their families and all Minnesotans are now safer from lead poisoning.
Those kids and parents weren't concerned with who was paying the salaries of the lawyers who fought to keep them safe. It's no secret, though, that one of those salaries was paid through a grant from New York University (NYU) School of Law.
So what's a recent attack on that funding really about? ("Agenda cash is buying state government jobs," Jan. 28.) Nothing more than another shot fired in the war on the truth about climate change. Predictably, the organization behind this attack appears to take money from the same corporate special interests that have funded that decadeslong war and caused near-irreparable harm to our climate and our future.
Minnesotans depend on the Attorney General's Office to protect them from fraud, deception and abuse and protect their communities from threats like the spread of COVID-19 and environmental degradation. Because the number of attorneys in our office has shrunk by half over the past two decades while the threats Minnesotans face have gotten more complex, I've successfully sought outside help at no cost to taxpayers, including two attorneys funded by NYU.
They report to me and no one else. They, like me, owe a duty only to Minnesotans and no one else.
Saving kids from lead poisoning isn't the only good work they've done. They're helping folks in the east metro address drinking-water contamination in the aftermath of the third-largest natural-resources damages settlement in history that the Attorney General's Office won from 3M. They also stood up for Minnesotans' love of the outdoors and a clean environment by fighting the Trump administration's notorious environmental rollbacks.
And yes, with their help I filed a consumer-protection lawsuit against ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and the American Petroleum Institute for misleading Minnesotans about the real causes of climate change. As we will prove in court, these entities participated in a massive, decadeslong campaign to deceive consumers about the role their products played in causing climate change. They knew the truth and had a duty to disclose it, and instead they lied about it for years. I can't wait to have our day in court to shine light on it.
Maybe it's pure coincidence that the author of the attack on this work is Annette Meeks. Or maybe it's not. After all, the defendants in the ExxonMobil case also happen to be the same as, or closely related to, donors that write checks to the organization she founded and leads, the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota. That group's funders have included the American Petroleum Institute, one of the defendants, and the Charles G. Koch Foundation, a family foundation of another one of the defendants.
Meeks' organization has also taken big sums from the State Policy Network, an outfit that spreads skepticism about climate change around the country, and nearly $1 million from a shadowy group called the Donors Capital Fund, whose funders are unknown and untraceable.
Meeks' dislike of our work may not be limited to our holding Big Oil accountable. My office has taken on the drug industry, too. We've been on the forefront of exposing the causes of high pharmaceutical drug prices and fighting to bring them down. We're suing a cartel of generic-drug manufacturers for illegally fixing prices. And we're in court right now fighting to protect Minnesota's Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act — named after a young Minneapolis man who died because he couldn't afford his insulin — against a lawsuit from the drug-industry group PhRMA.
Who else has funded the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota? PhRMA.
I've been transparent from the start about the funding that Meeks attacks: Our agreements with NYU are public documents that we've happily disclosed many times. She, however, failed her duty to be transparent about the groups funding her organization. Minnesotans see right through the hypocrisy.
Ultimately, this predictable attack has little to do with me: It's straight out of the same playbook of fraud and deception that Exxon, Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute and the vast network of climate-change deniers around them have been using for years. It won't hold us back from protecting Minnesotans. But it should cause Minnesotans to ask who's paying, and being paid, to deceive them.
Keith Ellison is attorney general of Minnesota.