State Attorneys General Wage War on Political Dissent

NY AG: Use 'creative ways' to silence opponents

Progressive state attorneys general are emerging as the new lieutenants in a nationwide war on political dissent, which includes using government power and even the threat of criminal prosecution to silence opponents of progressive theories.

Across the country, state attorneys general and some other officials are trying to use courts to pry loose information on donors to center-right nonprofits, and threatening to bring criminal charges. While these nonprofits and climate change dissenters are the current targets, one attorney warns the tactic represents a danger to political free speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

A group of attorneys general from 17 states, led by New York, recently announced the formation of “AGs United For Clean Power.” The officials intend to pursue climate change policies not through legislation but through litigation targeted at climate change “deniers,” borrowing the label applied to people who say that the Holocaust never took place.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was quoted in Huffington Post as saying the AGs will find “creative ways to enforce laws being violated by the fossil fuel industry and their allies.”

Michigan’s Bill Schuette is not one of the attorneys general involved in the group.

“AG Schuette is all about the free enterprise, free markets and freedom of thought,” said Andrea Bitely, a spokeswoman for Schuette. “Efforts to intimidate or silence different philosophical viewpoints will carry no weight or substance.”

In California, AG Kamala Harris has begun a criminal investigation into Exxon Mobil Corp. over its views on climate change.

Harris was recently rebuked by a federal judge who ruled that her office could no longer demand the names of donors from nonprofits. Americans for Prosperity, a limited-government organization, had filed suit against the California AG saying the demand for donor information had a chilling effect on free speech.

The Virgin Islands AG recently filed a subpoena against the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has published many documents and given testimonies skeptical of various climate change policies. The subpoena asks for all communications within CEI on climate and energy policy from 1997 to 2006. It would also give the Virgin Islands AG information on the institute's donors.

“It’s not only CEI’s First Amendment rights at risk, it’s anyone who disagrees with the government regardless of who is in charge, whether that is on climate change or any other issue,” said Sam Kazman, the general counsel for CEI.

Representatives for the attorneys general in New York and the Virgin Islands didn’t respond to emails sent seeking comment.