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GOP Attorneys General Seeking to Block Climate Lawsuits Are Funded by Big Oil

Many donors are also being sued for deceiving the public about the role of fossil fuels in the climate crisis.

The American flag flies next to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S.

In late May, 19 Republican attorneys general filed a complaint with the Supreme Court asking it to block climate change lawsuits seeking to recoup damages from fossil fuel companies.

All of the state attorneys general who participated in the legal action are members of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which runs a cash-for-influence operation that coordinates the official actions of these GOP state AGs and sells its corporate funders access to them and their staff. The majority of all state attorneys general are listed as members of RAGA.

Where does RAGA get most of its funding? From the very same fossil fuel industry interests that its suit seeks to defend. In fact, the industry has pumped nearly $5.8 million into RAGA’s campaign coffers since Biden was elected in 2020.

The recent Supreme Court complaint has been deemed “highly unusual” by legal experts.

The attorneys general claim that Democratic states, which are bringing the climate-related suits at issue in state courts, are effectively trying to regulate interstate emissions or commerce, which are under the sole purview of the federal government. Fossil fuel companies have unsuccessfully made similar arguments in their own defense.

RAGA’s official actions — and those of its member attorneys general — closely align with the goals of its biggest donors.

The group, a registered political nonprofit that can raise unlimited amounts of cash from individuals and corporations, solicits annual membership fees from corporate donors in exchange for allowing those donors to shape legal policy via briefings and other interactions with member attorneys general.

A Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) analysis of IRS filings since November 24, 2020 shows that Koch Industries (which recently rebranded) leads as the largest fossil fuel industry donor to RAGA, having donated $1.3 million between 2021 and June 2024.

Other large donors include:

  • American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil and gas industry’s largest trade association
  • Southern Company Services, a gas and electric utility holding company
  • Valero Services, a petroleum refiner
  • NextEra Energy Resources, which runs both renewable and natural gas operations
  • Anschutz Corporation, a Denver-based oil and gas company
  • American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a major trade organization
  • Exxon Mobil, one of the largest fossil fuel multinationals in the world
  • National Mining Association, the leading coal and mineral industry trade organization
  • American Chemical Council, which represents major petrochemical producers and refiners

Many of these donors are being sued for deceiving the public about the role fossil fuels play in worsening climate change: many states — including California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island — as well as local governments — such as the city of Chicago and counties in Oregon and Pennsylvania — have all filed suits against a mix of fossil fuel companies and their industry groups. In the cases brought by New York and Massachusetts, ExxonMobil found support from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in defense of the corporation.

Paxton has accepted $5.2 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry over the past 10 years, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets and reviewed by CMD.

Note: This funding compilation does not include law firms, front groups, or public relations outfits that work on behalf of fossil fuel clients, many of which use legal shells to shield themselves from outright scrutiny. For example, Koch Industries, through its astroturf operation Americans for Prosperity, has deployed a shell legal firm in a major Supreme Court case designed to dismantle the federal government’s regulatory authority.

Carrying Big Oil’s Water

This is far from the first time RAGA members have banded together to try to defeat clean energy and environmental regulations. In 2014, the New York Times initially reported on how RAGA circulates fossil fuel industry propaganda opposing federal regulations.

The Times investigation revealed thousands of documents exposing how oil and gas companies cozied up to Republican attorneys general to push back against President Obama’s regulatory agenda. “Attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns,” the investigation found. That effort, which RAGA dubbed the Rule of Law campaign, has since morphed into RAGA’s political action arm, the nonprofit Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF).

Since then, RAGA’s appetite to go to bat for the industry has only grown.

In 2015, less than two weeks after representatives from fossil fuel companies and related trade groups attended a RAGA conference, Republican AGs petitioned federal courts to block the Obama administration’s signature climate proposal, as CMD has previously reported, Additional reporting revealed collusion between Republican AGs and industry lobbyists to defend ExxonMobil and obstruct climate change legislation.

There was also the 2016 secret energy summit that RAGA held in West Virginia with industry leaders, along with private meetings with fossil fuel companies to coordinate how to shield ExxonMobil from legal scrutiny. Later that year, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey — aided by 19 other Republican AGs — successfully brought a case before the court that hobbled Obama’s signature climate plan.

Morrisey is currently leading the Republican effort to take down an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation that targets coal-fired power plants.

Often, the attorneys general bringing these cases share many of the same donors who backed the confirmation of Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices, as pointed out by the New York Times.

And in 2021, Republican attorneys general from 19 states sent a letter to the U.S. Senate committees on Environment and Public Works and on Energy and Natural Resources hoping to persuade senators to vote against additional regulations on highly polluting methane emissions, a leading contributor to global warming.

Since 2022, RLDF’s “ESG Working Group” has been coordinating actions taken by Republican AGs against sustainable investing. Communications from that group obtained by CMD show that it was investigating Morningstar/Sustainalytics and the Net-Zero Banking Alliance. Republican AGs announced investigations into the six largest banks for information on their involvement in the Net-Zero Banking Alliance later that year.

Legacy of Right-Wing Actions

It’s not only about fossil fuels. Attorneys general who are members of — and financially backed by — RAGA have a long track record of pursuing right-wing agendas. In Mississippi, Attorney General Lynn Fitch helped bring the legal case that ultimately overturned Roe v. Wade. In Texas, Paxton has attempted to overturn the Affordable Care Act and sued the federal government over Title IX civil rights protections, and safeguards for seasonal workers, among other policy irritants to the far Right. With support from fellow Republican AGs, he also led one of many efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

In recent years, other pro-corporate major donors have included The Concord Fund, which is controlled by Trump’s “court whisperer” Leonard Leo, Big Tobacco, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform.

David Armiak contributed research for this report.

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