Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has joined 17 other Democratic state attorneys general in a racketeering, corruption and fraud investigation of climate change “deniers.” The investigation is a direct attack on the First Amendment, chilling the political speech of individuals and groups with which the Democratic state attorneys general disagree. The Democratic state attorneys general and the climate alarmists apparently believe that saving the planet overrides the First Amendment and freedom.
The Democratic state attorneys general journey into prosecutorial hubris and misconduct had its inception in a proposal from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, for a federal RICO investigation of Exxon-Mobil for funding climate denial when the “truth” of climate alarmism was known. Various environmental groups weighed in, and a strategy of using compliant and ambitious Democratic state attorneys general emerged.
Broad subpoenas have been issued to “denier” think tanks, but it’s not going swimmingly for the attorneys general. The deniers are fighting back. The initial subpoena issued to the Competitive Enterprise Institute was withdrawn, and further setbacks likely will follow.
As one of Maine’s more prominent “deniers” and a longtime First Amendment advocate, I wrote to Mills expressing my concerns, asking for a meeting and inviting her to speak on the issue on Constitution Day. After two weeks, a message left at her office and an unacknowledged complaint to the Maine Civil Liberties Union, I got the following terse nonresponsive email from Mills:
“To the best of my knowledge, you are not a ‘potential person of interest’ in any investigation in which this office is involved.”
Mills’ response suggests she shares the prosecutorial hubris of her fellow Democratic state attorneys general. Any competent investigation of “deniers” would have to include a prominent skeptic with ties to the Koch brothers, Exxon-Mobil, the Republican Party and conservative think tanks.
This is not the first time the Maine attorney general’s office has threatened my free speech rights over environmental policy disagreements. In 2000, it was a “warning” email from Assistant Attorney General Jeff Pidot over political speech the environmental left found threatening. That incident ended with a legislative ruckus, an apology from the attorney general and a letter to Gov. Angus King from the Natural Resources Council of Maine urging my excommunication from the environmental policy public square.
Sixteen years later, the environmental left has 17 Democrat state attorneys general doing their bidding: chilling speech they don’t like.
The First Amendment is under broad attack these days. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association are all being curtailed by the left. In addition to Democratic and environmentalist attacks on free speech, progressives continue to use campaign finance reform as a vehicle to try and restrict political speech and to overturn 40 years of settled law that money is speech.
While progressives are cool to religious liberty, they are positively hostile to the First Amendment’s establishment clause forbidding a state religion. Environmentalism is essentially their religion now, and they want to make it a mandatory national creed.
The Constitution says there shall be no religious test for office, but a belief in climate change alarmism is clearly required for Democrats and for all of us if the progressives and a compliant media have their way.
I feel as strongly about the First Amendment as Charlton Heston felt about the Second. Mills’ gag isn’t working.
Jon Reisman teaches environmental policy at the University of Maine at Machias.