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THE ENVIRONMENTAL ASPIRATIONS of actor Leonardo DiCaprio are once again under scrutiny. This time, his nonprofit foundation is accused of making grants to a financial group with questionable practices that, in turn, is leading nationwide lawsuits over climate change-related nuisances.
According to a series of emails obtained by Fox News, philanthropist Dan Emmet and the current National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief adviser to the Biden administration, UCLA educator Ann Carlson, reportedly worked in 2017 with a law firm called Sher Edling to raise money to fund giant lawsuits against oil companies over alleged climate change “deceptions.”
Leonardo DiCaprio funneled grants through dark money group to fund climate nuisance lawsuits, emails show https://t.co/89L3MQcaen
— Fox News (@FoxNews) August 15, 2022
The lawsuits in question were made on behalf of state and local governments, and were intended to influence federal policies on climate change.
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According to the emails, the Sher Edling firm’s chief strategy officer, named Chuck Savitt, was seeking Emmet and Carlson’s support after receiving help from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation from then-CEO Terry Tamminen.
In an email sent on July 22, 2017, Emmet tells Carlson that Tamminen is a “key supporter” of the lawsuits in question, which were introduced with the backing of the Collective Action Fund for Accountability, Resilience and Adaptation, an environmental-minded fund managed by the “dark money group” Resources Legacy Fund (RLF).
“Dark money groups” are those non-profit organizations that are not required to disclose their donors.
In the electronic exchange, Savitt told Emmet that the lawsuits, introduced with the support of Collective Action Fund, would require 37 of the world’s top fossil fuel companies to take responsibility for the “devastating damage” that rising sea levels, “caused by their greenhouse gas emissions,” caused to coastal communities.
The RLF group would have supported Sher Edling with more than $5.2 million between 2017 and 2020, according to tax returns reviewed by Fox News.
A million-dollar donation from DiCaprio
The emails were received by the news agency from a tax-exempt organization that goes by the name Government Accountability & Oversight (GAO), which, in turn, obtained them through litigation.
The GAO information suggests that DiCaprio‘s foundation was involved in supporting lawsuits filed against major oil companies on behalf of several states, including Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and cities such as New York City, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Baltimore and Honolulu.
For its part, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation publicly announced a $20 million contribution that included a grant to the RLF “to support precedent-setting legal actions” that sought “to hold major corporations in the fossil fuel industry liable,” in a clear mimicry of Savitt’s words.
While it is not known how much money DiCaprio’s foundation gave to RLF out of the $20 million, the announcement earmarked $3,573,562 for the ‘Climate Program’, the category in which the Collective Action Fund fell. However, several other organizations also received funds in this category from the foundation.
Mark Kleinman, a spokesman for RLF, confirmed to Fox News Digital in an email that the group had sent money to Sher Edling from 2017 to 2020 to organize “charitable activities” that sought to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for “the accuracy of information they had disseminated to consumers and the public about the role their products played” in climate change.
“RLF receives support from many funding entities, and its board of directors and staff make all decisions as to where the funding goes” Kleinman said.
The GAO also expressed concern in a report about its findings in the litigation, especially about what Sher Edling called “double-dipping.” In addition to the funding it was receiving from groups like RLF, GAO said the firm received “contingency fee” agreements to file lawsuits on behalf of government clients.
These fees mean that Sher Edling would have received payment regardless of the outcome.
As George Mason University professor emeritus Michael Krauss explained in a publication for Forbes in 2020, the law firm would have received funding from two sources for the same cases.
“Can a non-profit funnel donations to a for-profit law firm that has already determined a different form of compensation? May a law firm, which could be fabulously enriched on a contingent basis, ethically accept funding that is paid whether or not the client prevails? If legislation through litigation is bad, what to make of legislation through litigation subsidized by taxpayers through charitable donations?”
Krauss then pointed out that the American public “deserves” answers to those questions, and criticized the Washington DC lawsuit against several of the oil giants, including British Petroleum, Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Shell.
The intellectual also asserted that the lawsuits were a “political attempt to achieve through litigation what the District cannot accomplish through legislation”.
That is precisely why, according to the GAO, these Sher Edling lawsuits had encountered setbacks in the courts, given that these were efforts to directly influence federal legislation on environmental issues.
Multiple of these Sher Edling-led litigations, funded by DiCaprio, are still ongoing. Those involving the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, California, are about to face the federal panel in the courts.
Tomás Lugo, journalist and writer. Born in Venezuela and graduated in Social Communication. Has written for international media outlets. Currently living in Colombia // Tomás Lugo, periodista y articulista. Nacido en Venezuela y graduado en Comunicación Social. Ha escrito para medios internacionales. Actualmente reside en Colombia.