Eco-Activists Met ‘Behind Closed Doors’ To Push RICO Investigation Into Exxon

REUTERS/Mike Stone

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Environmental activists met behind closed doors in January to coordinate on how best to get government prosecutors to go after ExxonMobil for allegedly misleading the public about global warming, according to documents obtained by The Wall Street Journal.

“A key meeting in the new push unfolded in January behind the closed doors of a Manhattan office building,” the WSJ reported Wednesday. “The session brought together about a dozen people, including Kenny Bruno, a veteran of environmental campaigns, and Bill McKibben, founder of, two activists who helped lead the successful fight to block the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Environmentalists want “to establish in public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution that has pushed humanity (and all creation) toward climate chaos and grave harm,” according to a meeting agenda obtained by WSJ. The whole point of this closed door meeting was to come up with ways to convince the Justice Department to follow the lead of state attorneys general and investigate Exxon. Activists want the DOJ to go after Exxon using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO — an anti-mafia law.

“Their hope is to encourage state attorneys general and the U.S. Justice Department to launch investigations and lawsuits that ultimately will change Exxon’s behavior, force it to pay big damages and drive public attention to climate change,” WSJ reported.

Since November, three other attorneys general have launched investigations into Exxon. The AG of the U.S. Virgin Islands launched the first volley in the anti-Exxon probe by sending a subpoena to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a libertarian think tank. The AGs are basing their investigations on reports from InsideClimate News and Columbia University claiming Exxon knew about the dangers of global warming for decades while funding groups skeptical of warming.

But both InsideClimate News and the Columbia reporters are funded by the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF) — the very same group hosting the January meeting to push federal prosecution of Exxon.

“It’s about helping the larger public understand the urgencies of finding climate solutions,” Lee Wasserman, RFF’s director, told WSJ. “It’s not really about Exxon.”

InsideClimate and Columbia’s Energy and Environmental Reporting Project, however, are financed by left-wing foundations looking to ban fossil fuels. Aside from RFF, the foundation most aggressively campaigning to end fossil fuel use is the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) — the heirs of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller. Exxon is one of the many companies eventually spun off from Standard Oil. RBF funds InsideClimate News and Columbia University’s Energy and Environmental Reporting Project, which put out the anti-Exxon articles.

AG Claude Walker asked CEI for records going back 20 years as part of a racketeering investigation into Exxon. CEI has vowed to fight the subpoena, which they argue is politically motivated.

RBF has been a major funder of environmental campaigns, including the push to get institutions and pensions to divest from fossil fuel assets as a way to make a statement about global warming. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“RBF is not afraid of a fight, and it has been a supporter lately of efforts to block the Keystone XL pipeline,” according to Inside Philanthropy, a foundation watchdog. “[I]t gave $50,000 to the League of Conservation Voters in 2013 to educate voters on the issues around Keystone and has addressed the broader threat posed by tar sands oil through a half-million-dollar grant to the Sierra Club Foundation.”

“In the past few years, RBF also has been a major funder of — a group at the forefront of the Keystone fight and other activist efforts to raise awareness about climate change,” Inside Philanthropy reports.

InsideClimate and Columbia have been adamant their funding doesn’t influence their reporting, but recently Wasserman recently admitted her organization gave money to journalism outlets to target how energy companies were handling global warming.

Wasserman said RFF “supported public interest journalism to better understand how the fossil fuel industry was dealing with the reality of climate science internally and publicly.”

Now, liberal attorneys have focused that support to punish Exxon and its allies for opposing regulations aiming to curb global warming. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been the main prosecutor behind the anti-Exxon porbe, launching an investigation into the company in November.

“Financial damages alone may be insufficient,” Schneiderman said during the event in New York City in April. “The First Amendment does not give you the right to commit fraud.”

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