Republican Attorneys General March into Battle
A once-bipartisan organization representing state AGs seems captured by the Left. Republican members are increasingly fed up — and looking to act.
“All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.”
Those interested in watching O’Sullivan’s First Lawplay out in real time should pay attention to the ways and means of the allegedly bipartisan National Association of Attorneys General, a.k.a. “NAAG,” whose ideological-trending ways have forced a growing number of Republican members to head for the exits.
How wise this craze is for America is a matter for consideration.
NAAG’s membership — attorneys general from the 50 states, plus AGs from Guam, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands — has been depleted by five members since early 2021. All departures are by Republicans. All cited serious concerns with the institution’s ideological trajectory, its practices, and its thrall over money as their reasons for leaving.
Alabama AG Steven Marshall jump-started the walk-out in April 2021. “I can’t justify spending taxpayer dollars to fund an organization that seems to be going further and further left,” he explained. “With the money we will save, I can add a young lawyer to my consumer protection division and yield a far better return on the taxpayer’s investment.”
It took a while, but the following May, a trio of Republicans — Ken Paxton (Texas), Eric Schmitt (Missouri), and Austin Knudsen (Montana) — wrote to NAAG’s Democrat chairman, Tom Miller, Iowa’s long-serving attorney general, to announce that they were following Marshall out the door.
The Association’s leftward drift over the past half decade has become intolerable. Indeed, this liberal bent has fundamentally undermined NAAG’s role as a “nonpartisan national forum” that “provides a community to collaboratively address” important issues. . . .
We previously met with NAAG’s senior leadership to make them aware of our concerns. Those conversations were friendly, but nothing has been done. And we see no signs that anything will change in the future.
Within days of that exit, Arizona’s Republican AG, Mark Brnovich, followed suit. “We are hereby notifying you that the Arizona Attorney General’s Office had decided to withdraw its membership from NAAG,” he wrote. He additionally charged that “the Association is supposed to function as a nonpartisan forum, but the speakers and topics presented at recent NAAG meetings indicate otherwise.”
Where’s the leftward drift? As reported in the Washington Free Beacon, “Republican NAAG members are growing frustrated at what they say is the heavy progressive current running through organization programming — such as an institutional ‘special organization initiative’ dubbed The People v. Hate,” and crafting programs such as a “Zoom panel on social media disinformation that canvassed progressive pet causes like reforming amplification algorithms in social media to isolate the far-right.” Another bone to pick, of many: NAAG event speakers have also included leftist billionaire Tom Steyer’s brother and representatives of the conservative-hating Southern Poverty Law Center.
All this happens even though 28 of the 50 state attorneys general are Republicans. Yet somehow, NAAG’s leadership is disproportionately Democratic.
NAAG’s practices have also sparked a series of fiduciary concerns and questions with troubled Republican (now) ex-members: As Knudsen explained to his constituents:
Montanans rightly expect their elected officials to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and transparency from funds that are supposed to be managed in our best interests. Continued membership in the National Association of Attorneys General does not meet those expectations, so today I am officially ending it.
Will others do the same? There is a hint of that possibility. On the heels of Brnovich’s departure, eight other Republican AGs — led by Kentucky’s Daniel Cameron — sent NAAG’s leadership a pointed, four-page, answers-demanding letter to Chris Toth, then NAAG’s leader. The letter explained the core of the GOP’s fiscal concerns with the institution, and especially with its sidekick, cash-besotted nonprofit, the NAAG Mission Foundation, described in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial as “The Attorneys General Racket.”
The letter to Toth has yet to receive a formal response from NAAG leadership. But that is not because it lacks substance. It reinforces critiques about the organization’s “increasingly partisan programming and the seeming exclusion of conservative members in favor of more liberal ones.” And it spotlights the practice and existence of “multi-state settlement agreements” (such as that made with the tobacco industry in the late 1990s) that formally designate NAAG and its foundation as direct recipients of lavish settlement payouts, often of many millions of dollars.
Case in point: In early 2021, consulting behemoth McKinsey & Company agreed to a $573 million settlement on a multi-state opioid-crisis case. Orchestrated by state attorneys general, the agreement explicitly cut in NAAG for a whopping $15 million. Wasn’t this case, though, about the human victims of the national opioid epidemic, more so than being a vehicle for a guaranteed payday for a cabal of elected lawyers? Per Toth’s letter:
NAAG’s $15 million McKinsey settlement is nearly double the amounts received by some states and nearly 40% more than Kentucky received. These states have lost thousands of their citizens to the opioid epidemic and represent thousands more who still struggle. Yet NAAG, an entity with no such constituency, collected $15 million.
There’s plenty more in the till than that amount. NAAG’s 2021 Annual Report declares over $280 million in combined assets of both NAAG ($165 million) and the Mission Foundation ($115 million). Which raises a serious question: Why do groups representing attorneys general need over a quarter of a billion dollars at their disposal?
If you suspect this money is to be used as de facto ideological, jurisprudential investment capital, you’d agree with the GOP letter writers. They charge that the NAAG cash is controlled by Democrat-populated “fund committees” that reek of trial-lawyer activism. From their letter:
As you know, there are reports of fund committees constructively barring Republicans from the application processes, while these same committees appropriate settlement dollars to fund left-wing programming. Furthermore, fund committees are now issuing grants that are more like loans than grants. Of course, loans must be repaid, which incentivizes states to pursue litigation for a financial return, regardless of whether such litigation is justified. The result is NAAG’s promotion of “entrepreneurial litigation” and “suing businesses for profit,” all of which is “more in line with the plaintiffs’ bar” than making whole those who have been harmed.
The GOP AGs demanded a reply to their broadside by June 6 — a date that has come and long gone with silence. So what to do? Will more peeved Republicans abandon NAAG, even with GOP hopes of netting two or three additional generalships in November — thereby hardening the control NAAG’s Democrat-heavy leadership has over its bulging settlement-funds endowments?
Or: Could the potential of a 30–20 Republican-majority balance stem the run on membership, and inspire members to plot a strategy for institutional control, with a goal of putting an end to what the Journal calls “unsavory practices that deserve more public exposure” — all of it bankrolled by settlements that sent big hunks of cash to a special-interest group rather than to actual victims?
There is a heck of a lot of damage can be done with $280 million in the hands of progressive Democrats. Maybe — hopefully — this will be something that members of the Republican Attorneys General Association dwell upon when they meet next month in Colorado.