Documents: AG Ellison spoke at conference partially funded by companies he's investigating

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison claims to be the “People’s Lawyer.” But documents say he spoke at a lavish Hawaii retreat in June 2021 partially funded by companies he’s investigating, including Meta and Google.

A 2021 retreat agenda of the Attorney General Alliance says Ellison participated in a lunch conversation at the Grand Wailea hotel with New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas about managing high-profile criminal matters.

The AGA is a bipartisan group funded via corporate sponsorship tiers from $10,000 to $50,000, according to documents reviewed by The Center Square. A 2020 AGA sponsorship list obtained by The Center Square lists Facebook, Juul, Capital One, Google, Pfizer, and other sponsors. In total, more than 100 companies funded the event.

In contrast, the first-term Democrat facing re-election tweeted on Oct. 30:

“I’m protecting MN consumers & your wallets from corporate greed. My opponent is a Wall St atty paid for & beholden to corporate interests. He’s vowed to gut the consumer div to let them fleece you. Unlike him, I’m the People’s Lawyer. #AGNot4Sale”

Ellison joined a group that sued Facebook, which is now Meta, on Dec. 9, 2020, saying it “has illegally stifled and continues to illegally stifle competition to protect its monopoly power.” Ellison announced Minnesota was investigating Google on July 8, 2021, and joined another investigation into Meta on Nov. 18, 2021.

Ellison’s office didn’t reply to a request for comment by publication.

A group called "Defend Colorado" filed a campaign finance complaint against Democratic Colorado AG Phil Weiser for attending the Hawaii event. The complaint claims Weiser held a campaign event at the retreat and failed to report the $6,000 room fee, a $39,760 food and beverage minimum, and a 25% service charge. The complaint says Weiser reported only $437 for event food and beverage expenditures.

Chris Toth, a former director of the National Association of Attorneys General, said he was “increasingly alarmed” by the growing influence of corporate money in the attorney general arena, especially for entities being investigated and sued by AGs.

Toth didn’t name specific groups but said there is “clearly no functional vetting mechanism for who gains access and who can essentially buy programming at AGA meetings.” Toth wrote. “This places AGs in a very compromising and potentially embarrassing situation.”

"AGA is overwhelmingly dependent on corporate and lobbyist money for its activities,” Toth wrote. “That means when you go on a delegation, some lobbyist or corporation is paying for that. When you have your room and airfare paid for, some portion of that is coming from someone you are investigating or suing."

Christine Snell, a campaign manager for Republican AG challenger Jim Schultz, criticized Ellison.

“Keith Ellison calls himself the ‘People's Lawyer,’ but goes to lavish conferences funded by corporations he claims to be investigating,” Snell said in a statement. “Alongside that, he has attorneys in his office funded by New York-billionaire Michael Bloomberg and embraces policies that have delivered violent crime that hits the poor the hardest. He is the definition of a limousine liberal."

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