Biden nominee coordinated dark money climate nuisance lawsuits involving Leonardo DiCaprio
President Biden’s nominee to lead the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was previously involved in a dark money-fueled effort to file numerous climate nuisance lawsuits across the country.
Ann Carlson, who currently serves as acting NHTSA administrator, was formerly an environmental law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles where she also served as the co-director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change & the Environment. During her time at the institute, she coordinated with its chairman Dan Emmett to raise money for lawsuits designed to hobble the fossil fuel industry.
Carlson and Emmett revealed details about their behind-the-scenes efforts to spearhead the litigation in email correspondence from 2017 and 2018 obtained by the watchdog group Government Accountability & Oversight (GAO) and highlighted in a Fox News Digital report last year. The two worked to raise money that was then funneled through nonprofit organizations to the private law firm Sher Edling.
In their emails, Emmett and Carlson discuss how Chuck Savitt, Sher Edling’s director of strategic client relationships, had sought Emmett’s support and had already received support from Terry Tamminen in his role as the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s CEO, a title he held between 2016 and 2019. Tamminen now serves on the advisory board of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change & the Environment.
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“Chuck Savitt who is heading this new organization behind the lawsuits has been seeking our support,” Emmett wrote to Carlson on July 22, 2017. “Terry Tamminen in his new role with the DiCaprio Foundation has been a key supporter.”
Emmett also forwarded a message Savitt sent him three days earlier on July 19, 2017, asking for his support. Savitt mentioned in the earlier email that Sher Edling’s first lawsuits were filed with the support of the Collective Action Fund for Accountability, Resilience and Adaptation, a fund managed at the time by dark money group Resources Legacy Fund (RLF).
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“Wanted to let you know that we filed the first three lawsuits supported by the Collective Action Fund on Monday,” Savitt told Emmett in the email. “These precedent setting cases call on 37 of the world’s leading fossil fuel companies to take responsibility for the devastating damage sea level rise – caused by their greenhouse gas emissions – is having on coastal communities.”
Sher Edling wiped mention of Savitt from its website two days after Fox News Digital first reported on the emails in August.
The email correspondence between Carlson and Emmett took place two months before the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation publicly announced it would contribute $20 million in grants to various climate and conservation causes. The group’s announcement, which has since been deleted but remains archived, included a grant to the RLF “to support precedent-setting legal actions to hold major corporations in the fossil fuel industry liable,” closely mirroring Savitt’s language.
And in 2018, the records showed Carlson emailed Emmett asking if she could mention his and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s involvement in the fundraising scheme to other prospective donors.
Emmett green-lit the idea, adding that she could tell others that “Terry’s organization and I are both serious supporters, that you are an advisor, that the science is there, that it could do more for the environment than just about anything going on if it succeeds.”
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In addition to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and the Emmett Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and JPB Foundation have contributed to the Collective Action Fund since 2017. The RLF, in turn, contributed more than $5.2 million to Sher Edling between 2017 and 2020, according to the group’s tax filings during that period.
RLF’s fiscal sponsorship of the Collective Action Fund was then quietly shifted to the New Venture Fund — a nonprofit incubator at the billion-dollar dark money network managed by Arabella Advisors consulting firm — which wired $3 million to Sher Edling in 2021 alone, additional tax filings showed.
Overall, Sher Edling has filed lawsuits on behalf of the states of Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island and New Jersey, and the cities of Washington, D.C., New York City, Baltimore, Honolulu and San Francisco, in addition to several other cities and counties nationwide. The lawsuits allege fossil fuel companies have waged campaigns of deception about the science of climate change for decades.
“Obviously, the donors created — including DiCaprio — several purported arms’ lengths,” Chris Horner, a lawyer who represented GAO in a case involving the emails, told Fox News Digital in August.
“This model used a couple of pass-throughs, by which DiCaprio and, it appears, Dan Emmett and others could run things, including DiCaprio’s foundation and Resources Legacy Fund, and they’re not seen as financing the assault,” Horner added.
The White House announced Monday that Carlson’s nomination for NHTSA administrator was sent to the Senate for confirmation. The NHTSA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.