Emails, Wayback Machine Gem Confirms: DiCaprio, Other Private Funders of Governmental Climate Litigation Paid Millions to “Climate” Lawyers Via Pass-through Charity

From Government Accountability & Oversight


New revelations solve mystery whether wealthy donors are actually paying millions for lawyers to file massive “climate” lawsuits, despite contracts with taxpayer-clients set to pay same lawyers scores of millions as “contingency fee” out of clients’ alleged damages

‘Double-dipping’ at play? What did these generous politicians know and when did they know it?

Archived web post shows DiCaprio Foundation at first boasted of gift to foundation promoting green policies, a pass-through organization whose IRS filings reported curious payments to law firm behind litigation

Those IRS filings seem to have obscured the true purpose but Emails obtained in litigation confirm the what the millions were for

This Spring, GAO broke the story, laid out in records ordered by a court to be released in the California Public Records Act litigation Government Accountability & Oversight v. Regents, that Leonardo DiCaprio and at least one green Republican donor (and quite possibly another, influential Republican donor Andrew Sabin) had privately financed the wave of “climate nuisance” litigation brought on behalf of governmental entities by the law firm Sher Edling, LLP.

That revelation received no attention, despite reflecting a possible revolution in the legal industry. This seems about to change. Here is background on why.

Some of the DiCaprio, et al.,-funded “climate” lawsuits were dealt setbacks in court, hen judges ruled that the suits were an effort to influence federal environmental policy. This led the lawyers and plaintiffs to change tack and insist the cases are really purely local, consumer protection matters. Yet it appears that despite the lawyers’ change in rhetoric and claims to the courts, the same pass-through charity was quietly paying millions of dollars to the law firm bringing the case.

IRS filings and archived internet records appear to reveal that the same privately-financed project remained behind this litigation despite its ostensible change in focus, suggesting nothing had changed but the packaging. As defendants in the Minnesota lawsuit pointed out when removing that suit to federal court:

While purportedly brought under state law and in the name of consumer protection, this lawsuit by the State of Minnesota, acting through its attorney general (the “Attorney General”), is the culmination of a multi-year plan concocted by plaintiffs’ attorneys, climate activists, and special interests to force a political and regulatory agenda that has not otherwise materialized through the decisions of the political branches of the federal government. While the Attorney General is entitled to disagree with particular statements about climate and energy policy, he is not entitled to use state power to suppress speech and deter free association as part of a coordinated campaign to change federal climate and energy policy.

Indeed. And remarkably, at the same time the charity behind this politically-charged spate of lawsuits was also reporting to the IRS that an extraordinary series of “charitable grants” to the law firm were for environmental causes, the law firm receiving the grants was telling courts that its cases related to consumer protection and had no bearing on federal energy or environmental policy.

The same Minnesota defendants’ pleading raised the prospect that the governmental lawsuits were actually being privately financed. What made this prospect ever more of interest to the federal taxpayer, as one law professor noted in Forbes, was the fact of politicians awarding Sher Edling massive ‘contingency fee’ agreements to file these suits on behalf of the governmental clients — i.e., on behalf of their taxpayers — such as San Francisco, Oakland, New York City, Baltimore, Annapolis and Anne Arundel County (MD), Minnesota, and numerous others.

Contingency fee agreements pay substantial portions of any verdict or settlement that might eventually be reached to compensate the government plaintiffs for their ostensible damages to lawyers. These agreements allow lawyers to collect a portion of their clients damages supposedly because of the risk the lawyers take in handling the suits with a chance of no compensation, and investing their time in ventures that may never pay off.. And the wording of the agreements and related records obtained under open records requests leave no room to doubt that that fee is the compensation for the work.

This is especially curious, because documents now suggest that these attorneys may have been receiving payment from Hollywood donors for the same work that they ultimately also sought payment for from governmental clients.

Not one but two emails released in GAO v. Regents affirmed that “Terry [Tamminen]’s group” — at the time, Tamminen was CEO of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation — and green Republican donor and benefactor of law schools assisting the climate cases (Harvard, UCLA) Dan Emmett are “strong supporters” of the Sher Edling litigation. And their colleague in several environmentalist and supporting academic enterprises, Sabin, was targeted to possibly also help fund the assault.

In one of these emails, we see a forwarded email from the “head[] of this new organization behind the lawsuits” — Sher Edling, LLP’s non-lawyer, public- and donor-relations guy Chuck Savitt — who called the funding source for the climate suits “the Collective Action Fund”.

That term was new to GAO, which now sees the phrase also used by the Hewlett Foundation in announcing a gift to a New Venture Fund “Collective Action Fund For Accountability, Resilience, And Adaptation.” That fund also claimed it was supporting such litigation, and so seemed a safe bet to be what Savitt was referring to. That Fund received, e.g., $3 million from the MacArthur Fund in 2020 for three years of work.

It seems Savitt was in fact referring to a different “collective action fund” also underwriting the campaign (read on). Either way, the dollars are really piling up to pay for lawyers millions of dollars to file “contingency fee” lawsuits!

As GAO noted when the DiCaprio revelation first emerged in this document production, one particularly noteworthy aspect is that the firm’s contingency agreements promise up to tens and tens of millions of dollars more per case in the event they prevail or settle. After all, the firms run the risk of not being paid. Or so it seems that at least some of the taxpayer-plaintiffs likely assumed when promising enormous “contingency fee” payments.

GAO pointed out that something called Resources Legacy Fund’s (RLF) IRS filings offered an odd mélange of reasons why it gave a private, for-profit tort firm millions of dollars in charitable grants, none of which reasons suggested what the emails show was the grants’ purpose: filing lawsuits (on behalf of clients who also contracted with the firm to pay tens of millions of dollars from supposed taxpayer damages if they scored big).

These reasons as the campaign was getting organized and the first few suits filed were: “land or marine conservation” (2017) ($432,129), “advancing healthy communities” (2018) ($1,319,625) then, apparently having run out of euphemisms, “land or marine conservation, promotion of education and/or healthy communities” (2019) ($1.1 million).

However, while the GAO v. Regents production, by proving a “Collective Action Fund” was privately, quietly financing the Sher Edling climate lawsuits — massive ‘contingency fee’ pacts to pay for the work, notwithstanding  — there remained some ambiguity whether the millions given Sher Edling in charitable grants by RLF were in fact for the climate litigation.

The emails helpfully suggested one take a look at the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Stashed away on the Wayback Machine we see a 2017 post confirming that this Collective Action Fund does go into RLF’s pot that is paying the tort firm for the climate nuisance suits, as discussed in the emails.

This post happens to be from the first such LDF page available on Wayback, dated September 30, 2017. It was removed sometime after May 2021. LDF has since merged with other groups into an “environmental powerhouse” called Earth Alliance.

Given this, GAO raises again obvious questions raised by the revelation that the firm is being paid millions of dollars to prosecute government litigation for which, so far as the public record suggests, it was to be paid but only be paid tens and tens of millions of dollars (per client) if it won or settled:

Did the law firm disclose to its clients, e.g., Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, that it was already being paid to conduct this litigation?

That is, did the MN Legislative Advisory Commission know this when it approved the Ellison/Sher Edling contract, in its role as a good-government watchdog? If not, possibly Professor Krauss could update his thoughts on these arrangements.

Did the Michael Bloomberg-provided attorney in Minnesota (not to mention others in e.g., DC, RI and elsewhere), know this when she waived Sher Edling, LLP attorneys in to represent the state in its case, promising compliance with Minnesota rules of professional conduct? (GAO’s attorney readers may recall Rule 1.8(f) of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, adopted in plaintiff-states like Minnesota and Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia among other jurisdictions. It would be very surprising indeed if we do not hear more on that later.)

But if the firm did make this disclosure of the private financing for Minnesota’s litigation to Ellison, then taxpayers (and the Legislative Advisory Commission) might wonder whether Ellison informed the Commission of the full financial arrangements when he sought approval for his Sher Edling contingency fee contract. Because that disclosure doesn’t appear in the materials released under Minnesota’s open records law (scroll about 70% of the way down).

Curioser and curioser.

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August 20, 2022 2:25 am

The environmental triangle

But mainly fraud!

Ron Long
August 20, 2022 2:50 am

Good report. When you shine a light on cockroaches they run for cover. Wait for it.

Reply to  Ron Long
August 20, 2022 10:30 am

At my GelbspanFiles blog, I label the law firm in question here as THAT Sher Edling firm, the one with essentially 15 current boilerplate filings that they or their helpers shop around from one municipality to the next as a basic template for potential plaintiffs to sign on to. Troublesome as their dark money-funded problem is, the thing that may ultimately kill their “Exxon Knew”-style lawsuits is the ‘cornerstone’ evidence they push to assert fossil fuel companies ran disinformation campaigns, namely two sets of literally worthless ‘leaked industry memos’ that were never implemented anywhere, and thus cannot serve as proof of any industry-led disinformation campaigns which deceived the public,

Dave Fair
Reply to  Ron Long
August 20, 2022 2:36 pm

Or, more likely, like cornered rats they will wildly attack.

August 20, 2022 3:16 am

The cr@p keeps coming, but never any prosecutions.

Either the Republicans are playing their own propaganda games with their supporters, or they truly are incompetent.

Old Man Winter
Reply to  HotScot
August 20, 2022 4:53 am

I’ll go with #1- RINOs are playing their own propaganda games with their
supporters. I started “connecting the dots” on that ~30 yrs ago as Wall
Street (WS) always got what they wanted but conservatives rarely got what
they supported. Later on, I also realized WS liked financial monopolies-
think Apple- as much as Commies liked political monopolies. Both were
globalists, too, so it’s no surprise they’ve combined forces & are running both governments & WS! Bill Gates making $$$ from crises he’s
helped create? Whodda thunk!

The EPA, like the IRS, did very well with the Inflation Reduction Act &
unfortunately, the cr@p will continue to grow. Right now, the only real
pushback against it is from state AGs & governors who are more
conservative vs the DC RINOS.

Last edited 9 months ago by Old Man Winter
Reply to  HotScot
August 20, 2022 8:20 pm

definitely the former…. Dems stab you in the front… RINOs stab you in the back… they both hate you… by now it should be obvious that we have a uni-party, not a 2-party system… dont know how to change it because their grip on the system is solid… we all lose (well, the non 1%ers anyway)

Josh Scandlen
August 20, 2022 4:28 am

Just looked up Andrew Sabin. He owns Sabin Metals, a precious metal refinery. And donates TONS to the GOP.
Something very odd here. Almost as if the entire environmental movement is nothing but one big scam. Nah, that’d be crazy talk!

Gary Pearse
August 20, 2022 4:40 am

It would be nice to have a summary of all this. It sounds like nefarious doings but there is more careful innuendo than gotchas on what may be wrongdoing to a reader who doesn’t know the legal idiosyncrasies of US state and federal laws.

I’ve read other long tracts from these authors and been left similarly hanging. The machinations are clearly indirect, clandestine and meant to circumvent something, but where is the beef?

Reply to  Gary Pearse
August 20, 2022 10:54 am

You are basically right about long tracts, I’m guilty as charged in my own individual dissections of the 20+ “Exxon Knew”-style AGW damages lawsuits, 15 of those filings being directly handled by the law firm mentioned in the above article, along with two they assist with. The short summary I offer is that on top of the ‘DiCaprio dark money’ funding problem apparently keeping their efforts rolling, the law firm also is seemingly the recipient (via what looks like a separate dark money-funded effort involving ex-Greenpeace people) of basically worthless ‘leaked memos evidence’ which the law firm uses to support the accusation that fossil fuel industry executives ran disinformation campaigns which employed skeptic climate scientist ‘shill experts.’ The first memo set is seen in the example of Maui v Sunoco‘s PDF file page 78, para. 107, known widely as the “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” set, and the second memos set is on PDF file page 85, para. 117, known widely as the “victory will be achieved …” set. Neither the “victory will be achieved” memo set’s directives nor the “reposition global warming” set’s directives were ever implemented by any energy company anywhere; the latter set was a proposal that was actually rejected outright by the group it was presented to.

The nutshell of it all is that if the “Exxon-knew-but-instead-deceived-the-public-via-disinformation-campaigns” lawsuits are devoid of evidence proving the existence of industry-led disinformation campaigns, and if it is provable that essentially libel/slander efforts were employed against skeptic climate scientists to steer the public away from taking those skeptics’ climate assessments seriously, then this entire effort to keep AGW alive could collapse around the core clique of promulgators who’ve pushed the “crooked skeptic climate scientists” accusation.

Josh Scandlen
August 20, 2022 4:52 am

Ironically ole Andrew Sabin of Sabin Metals didn’t donate ANYTHING to GOP candidates in 2020. But ramped it back up in 2021. Wonder why?

Trump now out of the way he can shine his dollar bills in front of candidates to pursue his fake environmental agenda.

Old Man Winter
Reply to  Josh Scandlen
August 20, 2022 5:50 am

The narrative for their latest attempt to silence Trump with the
Mar-a-Lago raid may be unraveling, leaving them with potential legal
problems, too. Also, what’s this civil war & dirty bombs talk all
about? Laying the groundwork for another false narrative?

Washington Times-
FBI warns of threats of ‘civil war,’ ‘dirty bomb’ following Trump raid

MSNBC’s Cross: ‘I Would Say a Civil War Is Here

Richard Page
Reply to  Old Man Winter
August 20, 2022 6:08 am

Bye, bye USA, it was nice knowin’ ya!

Old Man Winter
Reply to  Richard Page
August 20, 2022 7:29 am

Big Brother™ keeps using fear porn & approved dogma to
silence any opposition as it keeps conditioning us to blindly
obey all their commands like a well-trained dog. What the
West needs is reality to bite us like it did in Sri Lanka. The
Europeans may beat us to it with the drought this summer &
a looming energy shortfall next winter. Hopefully, they’ll push back instead of succumb!

Reply to  Old Man Winter
August 22, 2022 7:14 am

Also, what’s this civil war & dirty bombs talk all about? Laying the groundwork for another false narrative?

Have you been following any of the testimony around the Whitmer “kidnapping” case?

Richard Page
August 20, 2022 5:59 am

Aren’t there 2 U’s in curious? Just askin’.
On a more content related point, is there any indication that these revelations are being raised with the states affected, or with regulatory watchdog’s? Not familiar with the US system so not sure who would have oversight on this.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Richard Page
August 20, 2022 2:50 pm

Legal fraud charges in making representation to governmental bodies about lawsuit compensation would be be an extreme outcome, depending on public documentation. More likely would be citizen or governmental filings with private, State and Federal legal ethics oversight bodies … good luck with that approach. There could be some political blowback for the politicians and government bureaucrats approving the contingency agreements, depending on what could be shown as to individual or group culpability in hiding the dual compensation agreements.

Reply to  Richard Page
August 20, 2022 5:46 pm

there is also a g inasking`
just saying

Richard Page
Reply to  jono1066
August 21, 2022 6:47 am

If you use a g in asking, then the apostrophe is superfluous, just saying.

August 20, 2022 8:11 am

Evidently professional conduct is like putty or play dough in the hands of such lawyers. It must be difficult to define.

Richard Page
Reply to  Olen
August 20, 2022 8:33 am

Well yes. This is why the legal profession has always had more scrutiny than most – professional conduct amongst lawyers has always been seen much like virginity amongst prostitutes: often promised but rarely delivered.

August 20, 2022 11:36 am

How much taxpayer money went to the lawyers, and how much was kicked back to the politicians? Just more money laundering.

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