DiCaprio's foundation 'funneled grants through dark money group'

Leonardo DiCaprio’s non-profit foundation ‘funneled grants through dark money group to fund lawsuits against oil companies over climate change deception’, according to claims

  • Emails show DiCaprio Foundation’s funded Resources Legacy Fund (RLF)
  • The dark money group in-turn funded law firm Sher Edling, which has brought lawsuits against oil companies on behalf of both local and state governments
  • According to the group’s tax filings RLF contributed more than $5.2million to law firm Sher Edling between 2017 and 2020. How much came from LDF is unknown

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s non-profit foundation funneled grants through a dark money group to fund lawsuits against oil companies over alleged climate change deception, a series of emails have suggested.

Correspondence in 2017 says that the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) was a ‘key supporter’ of law firm Sher Edling, which has sued oil companies on behalf of both state and local governments.

Sher Edling’s lawsuits were filed with backing from the Collective Action Fund for Accountability, Resilience and Adaptation – a fund managed by dark money group Resources Legacy Fund (RLF).

This is according to Fox News Digital, which was sent the emails by another tax-exempt group called ‘Government Accountability & Oversight’ (GAO).

According to RLF’s tax filings – seen by Fox – the group contributed more than $5.2million to law firm Sher Edling between 2017 and 2020.

While the group doesn’t disclose its donors, emails obtained by GAO through litigation suggest that DiCaprio’s foundation was involved in backing lawsuits brought against major oil companies on behalf of several states – including Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island – and cities, including New York City, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Baltimore, Honolulu.

The lawsuits allege that the companies have deceived the public about climate change, and call on fossil fuel companies to take responsibility for rising sea levels.

According to GAO, it obtained the emails through litigation.

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s non-profit foundation funneled grants through a dark money group to fund lawsuits against oil companies over alleged climate change deception, according to newly released emails. Pictured: DiCaprio (centre) marches with a group of indigenous people from North and South America, during the People’s Climate March in Washington DC, 2017

Screenshots of the 2017 emails published by the group show Dan Emmett – a major philanthropist contacting Ann Carlson  – then a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) climate professor.

The emails suggest the pair helped Sher Edling with its fundraising efforts.

Emmett and Carlson are shown discussing how Chuck Savitt, Sher Edling’s director of strategic client relationships, had sought support from Emmett. Emmett also says that the law firm has already recieved support from LDF.

The email specifically references Terry Tamminen, who at the time was the CEO of the DiCaprio foundation.

Carlson, now a senior official in President Biden’s administration, was at the time serving as the co-director of the UCLA Emmett Institute on Climate Change & the Environment. The institute is still chaired by Emmett.

‘Chuck Savitt who is heading this new organization behind the lawsuits has been seeking our support,’ Emmett wrote in an email to Carlson on July 22, 2017. ‘Terry Tamminen in his new role with the DiCaprio Foundation has been a key supporter.’

Another email sent three days earlier on July 19 that year, Emmett also forwarded a message to Carlson from Savitt, in which Savitt asked for his support.

Savitt mentioned in that email Sher Edling’s lawsuits had the support of the RLF managed fund, Collective Action Fund for Accountability, Resilience and Adaptation.

‘Wanted to let you know that we filed the first three lawsuits supported by the Collective Action Fund on Monday,’ Savitt wrote to Emmett.

‘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.’

Two months after the emails were sent, DiCarpio’s foundation announced it would contribute $20million in grants to various environmental causes.

The announcement has since been taken down from the group’s website, but GAO was able to access it through a web archive.

The announcement included a grant to the RLF ‘to support precedent-setting legal actions to hold major corporations in the fossil fuel industry liable for the effects of climate change pollution’. 

This mirrored Savitt’s language in the email he sent to Emmett.

 Pictured: Email correspondence in 2017 suggesting the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) was a ‘key supporter’ of law firm Sher Edling, which has sued oil companies on behalf of both state and local governments

Two months after the emails were sent, DiCarpio’s foundation announced it would contribute $20million in grants to various environmental causes. The announcement has since been taken down from the group’s website, but GAO was able to access it through a web archive

While it is not known how much money DiCaprio’s foundation handed to RLF, of the $20million announced in 2017, $3,573,562 was allocated to ‘Climate Program’ – the category under which The Collective Action Fund fell. Several other organizations also recieved funding under this category from the foundation, according to its 2017 announcement (pictured)

Pictured: NHTSA Chief Counsel Ann Carlson, who in 2017 was a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) climate professor. She corresponded with Dan Emmett – a major philanthropist – about how Chuck Savitt, Sher Edling’s director of strategic client relationships, had sought support from Emmett

Speaking at Yale University at the time, DiCaprio said: ‘We are proud to support the work of over 100 organizations at home and abroad. These grantees are active on the ground, protecting our oceans, forests and endangered species for future generations – and tackling the urgent, existential challenges of climate change.’ 

The following year – in February 2018 – Carlson asked Emmett whether a person named ‘Andy’ would have ‘any interest in helping to finance the nuisance litigation’. 

She said she had spoken to ‘the lawyers’ (including Vic Sher, a partner at Sher Edling) and that she had ‘continued to be impressed with him’.

Emmett responded by saying she could definitely reach out to ‘Andy’. ‘You can tell him 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,’ Emmett said.

The RLF contributed more than $5.2million to Sher Edling between 2017 and 2020, according to tax filings from the group. However, RLF does not disclose its donors and Fox News Digital reported it did not disclose who else it has recieved money from to fund the law firm’s litigation.

While it is not known how much money LFD handed to RLF, of the $20million announced in 2017, $3,573,562 was allocated to ‘Climate Program’ – the category under which The Collective Action Fund fell. 

Several other organizations also recieved funding under this category from the foundation, according to its 2017 announcement.

Mark Kleinman, an RLF spokesperson, confirmed to Fox News Digital in an email that the group had sent money to Sher Edling from 2017 to 2020 ‘to pursue charitable activities 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 causing 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 added.

DailyMail.com has contacted RLF for comment. The Leonardo DiCaprio foundation was not reachable.

In its report on the findings, GAO also raised concerns about what it called ‘double dipping’ by Sher Edling. In addition to the funding it was receiving from groups such as RLF, GAO said the firm was also the recipient of ‘contingency fee’ agreements to file the climate lawsuits on behalf of the governmental clients.

These fees mean Sher Edling would have recieved payment regardless of outcome.

While the group doesn’t disclose its donors, emails obtained by GAO through litigation suggest that DiCaprio’s foundation was involved in backing lawsuits brought against major oil companies on behalf of several states – including Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island – and cities, including New York City, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Baltimore, Honolulu. The lawsuits allege that the companies have deceived the public about climate change, and call on fossil fuel companies to take responsibility for rising sea levels. Pictured: A oil rig is seen off the coast of California (file photo)

Writing for Forbes in 2020, law professor emeritus at George Mason University Michael Krauss noted that this would mean the firm had two funding 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?’ Kraus wrote. 

‘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? We don’t have all the answers to these questions yet. I think we deserve them.’

Krauss was also damning of Washington DC’s lawsuit against several of the oil giants – including British Petroleum, Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Shell. 

‘The lawsuit is a political attempt to achieve through litigation what the District cannot accomplish through legislation,’ he wrote at the time. This, GAO says in its report, is why some of the lawsuits filed by Sher Edling have faced setbacks in court.

The group said judges ruled the suits were an effort to directly influence federal environment policy. ‘This led the lawyers and plaintiffs to change tack and insist the cases are really purely local, consumer protection matters,’ GAO says.

Most of the cases are still ongoing, with two – involving the California cities of San Francisco and Oakland – currently on appear before a federal panel, Fox News said.

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