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Leonardo DiCaprio gave money to a 'dark money' group that then gave the money to climate nuisance lawsuits

According to emails read by Fox News Digital, Leonardo DiCaprio's non-profit foundation gave money to a 'dark money' group, which then gave money to a law firm that was leading climate nuisance lawsuits across the country.

Correspondence between Dan Emmett, a major philanthropist, and Ann Carlson, a climate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in 2017 showed that the two worked with law firm Sher Edling to raise money for its efforts to sue oil companies over alleged climate change deception on behalf of state and local governments. The emails were obtained by watchdog group Government Accountability & Oversight (GAO) and shared with Fox News Digital.

In their emails, Emmett and Carlson talk about how Chuck Savitt, who was the director of strategic client relationships at Sher Edling, had asked Emmett for help and had already gotten help from Terry Tamminen in his role as CEO of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation from 2016 to 2019. Carlson, who is now a top official in the Biden administration, was co-director of the UCLA Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the time the emails were sent. Emmett still chairs the institute's advisory board.

Leonardo DiCaprio funneled grants through dark money group to fund climate  nuisance lawsuits, emails show | Fox News
Emmett wrote to Carlson on July 22, 2017, "Chuck Savitt, who is in charge of this new group that filed the lawsuits, has been asking for our help." "Terry Tamminen has been a big help in his new job with the DiCaprio Foundation."

The records show that Emmett also passed along a message Savitt sent him three days earlier, on July 19, 2022, asking for his help. Savitt said in that email that Sher Edling's first lawsuits were filed with the help of the Collective Action Fund for Accountability, Resilience, and Adaptation. This was a fund that was run at the time by a group called Resources Legacy Fund, which used secret funds to support political campaigns (RLF).

Savitt had told Emmett, "I wanted to let you know that we filed the first three lawsuits backed by the Collective Action Fund on Monday." "These cases that set a new standard ask 37 of the world's largest fossil fuel companies to take responsibility for the devastating effects of sea level rise on coastal communities, which are caused by their greenhouse gas emissions."

Savitt also offered to get Vic Sher, a partner at Sher Edling, and Emmett together.

Two months passed between the emails and the public announcement that the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation would give $20 million to different climate and conservation causes. The group's announcement, which has since been taken down but is still archived, said that it was giving a grant to the RLF "to support precedent-setting legal actions to hold major corporations in the fossil fuel industry accountable," which is very similar to what Savitt said.

DiCaprio said at the time, "These grantees are working on the ground to protect our oceans, forests, and endangered species for future generations, as well as to tackle the urgent, existential challenges of climate change."

Tamminen also said that the group thought it was important to "do as much as we can right now, before it's too late." Sher Edling wasn't mentioned in the news.

Months after the first email exchange, in February 2018, Emmett told Carlson that she could tell other potential donors that he and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation were now "serious supporters" of Sher Edling's lawsuit. Carlson had asked if she should ask New York philanthropist Andy Sabin to help with the effort. That's when the idea came up.

Emmett told Carlson in an email, "You can tell him that Terry's organization and I are both serious supporters, that you are a consultant, that the science is there, and that if it works, it could do more for the environment than almost anything else going on."

In addition to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and the Emmett Foundation, the Collective Action Fund has received money from the MacArthur Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the JPB Foundation since 2017.

On its website, Sher Edling says that it represents "states, cities, public agencies, and businesses in high-stakes, high-value environmental cases." Since its first cases in July 2017, which were filed on behalf of a city and two counties in California, Sher Edling has sued major oil companies on behalf of Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New York City, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Baltimore, Honolulu, and several local governments across the country, saying that the companies lied to the public about climate change.

Most of the cases are still going on, and two of them, involving cities in California called San Francisco and Oakland, are on appeal before a federal panel.

In an interview with Fox News Digital, Chris Horner, a lawyer who represented GAO in the case involving the emails, said, "It's clear that the donors, including DiCaprio, set up a number of so-called "arms' lengths."

“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.

Overall, the RLF contributed more than $5.2 million to Sher Edling between 2017 and 2020, according to the group’s tax filings during that period. The organization doesn’t disclose its donors and declined to confirm who it previously received money from to fund Sher Edling’s litigation.

Leonardo DiCaprio
The actor is known for making active efforts bringing awareness to climate change.
Getty Images for Turner

“From 2017 to 2020, Sher Edling received grants from RLF 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,” an RLF spokesperson Mark Kleinman told Fox News Digital in an email.

“RLF receives support from many funding entities, and its board of directors and staff make all decisions as to where the funding goes,” the spokesperson continued.

Experts have previously raised concerns regarding the source of Sher Edling’s funding for its climate litigation. 

Michael Krauss, a law professor emeritus at George Mason University, noted in a 2020 Forbes article the arrangement in which Sher Edling receives a payout from localities it represents if its cases are successful while, at the same time, it receives funding from tax-exempt groups, thereby removing some risk involved with taking on such 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,” he continued. “I think we deserve them.”

Emmett, Tamminen, Sabin and the Earth Alliance, an organization that subsumed the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in 2019, didn’t respond to requests for comment.


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