Republican AGs Battle 'Woke' Law Enforcement

Texas attorney general Ken Paxton (R.) speaks in front of the Supreme Court in 2019 / Getty Images
May 6, 2022

A group of Republican state attorneys general this week withdrew from the National Association of Attorneys General, a move that signals growing frustration with an increasingly progressive bent in law enforcement.

The attorneys general of Texas, Missouri, and Montana cited NAAG's "intolerable" leftward shift as their reason for leaving. In recent months, the group has pushed efforts to isolate conservative "misinformation" in social media and featured left-wing mega donor Tom Steyer's brother as a keynote speaker. NAAG has also featured speakers from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which routinely brands conservative organizations as hate groups.

The move signals Republican prosecutors' growing resolve to confront left-wing ideology in major legal institutions. It's a frustration that encompasses the woke takeover of top law schools like Yale, attacks on law enforcement, and the liberal bent of their own career staff.

"The association's leftward shift over the past half decade has become intolerable. Indeed, this liberal bent has fundamentally undermined NAAG's role as a nonpartisan national forum," Texas attorney general Ken Paxton (R.) wrote in a resignation letter, which Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt (R.) and Montana attorney general Austin Knudsen (R.) cosigned. "We can no longer spend our taxpayers’ money to sustain our membership with NAAG under these circumstances."

In March, the Washington Free Beacon reported that Republican lawyers were disgruntled with woke programming at NAAG conferences as well as the organization's approach to consumer protection issues. And in April, the Free Beacon revealed that NAAG planned to quiet critics by hiring a Republican as its new executive director—while positioning a young Democrat to succeed him in short order.

Wednesday's defections represent $200,000 in annual dues to the organization. NAAG's annual operating budget is about $5.1 million, according to internal financial documents obtained by the Free Beacon. Annual membership dues account for $3.2 million, or about 60 percent of the operating budget. The group faces an existential threat if other red states follow suit.

"The organization is almost entirely dependent on the flow of public money that comes in as dues from AGs. The growing list of state departures is turning into an inflection point for NAAG, especially if more states follow suit," a source familiar with NAAG operations and finances told the Free Beacon.

Republican AGs in at least five other states are thought to be considering departing the organization, representing hundreds of thousands more dollars in dues revenue. Wednesday's departures, far from being symbolic, represent a direct threat to the financial stability of the organization.

​​"We have withheld our dues since the beginning of my administration and we will continue to do so—at least until the time that this organization is restructured in a professional, bipartisan, or nonpartisan way," Indiana attorney general Todd Rokita (R.) told the Free Beacon.

These red state resignations come at a sensitive financial moment for the organization. A second set of internal NAAG documents the Free Beacon obtained indicate that 21 member states have yet to pay annual dues to the organization. Those payments amount to $1.2 million, or 38 percent of dues-derived revenue.

Of the outstanding money, about $570,000 comes from states with Republican AGs, underscoring the financial peril to the organization.

While NAAG also administers tens of millions of dollars in settlement funds from multi-state lawsuits, those accounts are governed by strict rules and may only be tapped in support of litigation or legal training. NAAG cannot use them to support programming or day-to-day operations.

Those settlement funds are an important component of the conservative critique of the organization. NAAG has landed portions of mammoth legal settlements that multi-state coalitions entered with corporate defendants for consumer protection violations. For example, NAAG got $15 million under the terms of a $600 million settlement that McKinsey & Co. paid out to 49 states over advice the consultant gave drugmakers to boost the sale of opioids.

That $15 million is more than some states like Alabama got out of the settlement, despite the horror that opioid addiction visited on the state. Republicans say money from such settlements should be used to help victims directly, rather than bankroll new lawsuits or support left-leaning advocacy groups.

In general, critics say NAAG has devolved into a left-wing legal "deep state" that brings together liberal career staff from Republican AG offices to coordinate nationwide legal efforts without interference from conservative higher-ups.

A spokesman for NAAG did not respond by press time to the Free Beacon's inquiries.