Conservative Think Tank Sues New York Attorney General Over Exxon Documents

The Competitive Enterprise Institute tries legal maneuver to uncover collaboration between AGs in their investigations of the oil giant.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is being sued by the Competitive Enterprise Institute
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is being sued by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Credit: Reuters

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The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank, has filed a lawsuit against New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to force disclosure of records connected to a coalition of state attorneys general who have vowed investigations of ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies.

CEI, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that has received funding from Exxon while leading efforts to sow doubt about climate change, wants to know if members of the Schneiderman-led coalition entered into an agreement to keep records connected to any investigations confidential. CEI and other allies of Exxon have been vigorously fighting these investigations since they were announced, and their suggestions that the attorneys general are secretly colluding have become a talking point across conservative media.

Schneiderman denied a request by CEI in May—made under New York’s Freedom of Information Law—for documents called common interest agreements that indicate a pact between coalition members not to publicly divulge information. His office claimed the records were exempt from disclosure.

“(Schneiderman) has not produced the records sought by (CEI) and has failed to properly invoke any legitimate exemptions under FOIL,” according to the lawsuit filed in the in the Albany County Supreme Court of New York.

The common interest agreement was revealed after a separate Freedom of Information Act request was filed by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, an ally of CEI.

“None of the reasons Schneiderman claimed for withholding these documents are legitimate under New York law,” Sam Kazman, general counsel for CEI, said in a statement.  “The public deserves to know what this AG, and the other AGs cooperating with him, agreed to when it came to targeting their political opponents, and that’s why we sought the Common Interest Agreement in the first place.”

Eric Soufer, a spokesman for Schneiderman, dismissed the lawsuit as a legal diversion.

“This is just the latest example of the industry turning to the Big Tobacco playbook: deny, delay, and distract from the real issues under investigation to avoid an honest conversation about the facts,” he said.