OR-Sen: Huffman's ties to big oil and junkets for judges

Carla Axtman

Today at Think Progress, Ian Millhiser connects the dots between judges on the Fifth Circuit Court who are hearing President Obama's bid to reinstate a six month moratorium on deep water oil drilling that was blocked last month by a federal judge. Millhiser's piece cites an Alliance For Justice investigative report outlining $10,000 junkets for judges sponsored by an oil-industry front group known as the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment (FREE).

James Huffman sits on the Board of Directors of FREE, which is heavily funded by a handful of large corporations (this citation is a synopsis of a piece in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, October 1, 2004. The full article is available for a fee, and I don't want to post it for free without permission) such as Texaco, Exxon, GE, Monsanto, Shell. FREE is also funded by a group of the nation's most notoriously ideological conservative foundations, including Sarah Scaife Foundation (run by Richard Mellon Scaife), Charles Koch Foundation (run by Charles Koch of Koch Industries), and Castlerock Foundation (run by the Coors family of Coors Brewing Company). Virtually every one of FREE's major funders has an obvious stake in the outcome of environmental litigation in federal courts. FREE also provides these corporations access to judges at their judicial programs, apparently in exchange for corporate funding. According to the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics piece, over and over, corporate litigants have given money to FREE in return for a forum for their leaders to address federal judges on issues of significant financial importance to the company.

The Georgetown Journal also provides a description of the junkets:

The problem with FREE's seminars starts with the size of the gift FREE provides to the judges that attend their seminars. FREE flies judges out to Big Sky, Montana; hosts them at lovely ranches and hotels; pays their room and board; assembles course materials; and brings faculty from around the country to lecture to the judges. For example, at the Elkhorn Ranch, one of FREE's recurring venues, judges may enjoy "some of the world's finest blue ribbon streams," take a horseback ride through "millions of acres of spectacularly beautiful mountain scenery," or maybe go whitewater rafting. Montana's Gallatin Gateway Inn, another frequent FREE destination, boasts "relaxing after a meeting could be basking in front of the Inn's distinctive fireplace, or soaking in the outdoor hot tub. During the summer months, you could also swim beneath the stars." FREE's tax filings for 2000 and 2001 indicate that they spent $273,057 for judicial seminars in 2000 and $217,580 for judicial seminars in 2001. During those same years, judges report attending twenty and fifteen FREE trips, respectively. These figures suggest that FREE is spending more than $10,000 per judge per trip.

In the same Journal article, Huffman is cited defending FREE's junkets and "educational" activities:

Most of the foundations that FREE identifies as funding their programs for judges simultaneously fund libertarian law firms like Pacific Legal Foundation and Washington Legal Foundation to bring federal court litigation challenging environmental laws. In this way, these sponsoring foundations can attempt to influence both the judges and the cases that will come before them. We are not the only ones to link FREE's "educational programming" to the litigation activities of WLF, PLF, and others. These are the words of FREE trustee James Huffman: “The Political Economy Research Center (PERC) laid the foundation for what has become known as free market environmentalism. Through a long term strategy of educational programming, PERC and its off shoot, the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE), have spread their message to journalists, congressional staffers, federal judges, government bureaucrats, environmental activists, and the general public. Thus, in the words of a FREE trustee, FREE is engaged in "educational programming" of federal judges that supports the legal challenges to "command and control" environmental protections brought by PLF and WLF. The fact that the same foundations support FREE's seminars and WLF's litigation suggests very strongly that these foundations too understand the synergy between the complementary efforts: they fund FREE to advance the litigation interests of other foundation grantees.

More from the Journal:

FREE uses its judicial seminars to advance the pecuniary and ideological interests of the corporations and foundations that provide FREE's funding. FREE has defended its use of free trips to influence the views of federal judges as the American way. Responding to criticism of FREE's judicial seminars, Huffman (emphasis Carla) told the San Diego Union-Tribune: "If people feel strongly about ideas and they want to influence someone in government they can-that's the way the system works."

So the system works to give people with lots of cash and power all the influence, according to Huffman. He doesn't seem particularly eager to change it. So he's running for the US Senate...to make the system work for the wealthy and powerful...even more?


We've got plenty of corporate influence and wealthy, powerful individuals lobbying the halls of government on all sides of the aisle. A guy that simply shrugs his shoulders at the problem (or perhaps doesn't see it as a problem at all) isn't someone I want representing me in the US Senate.

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    The full article is available for a fee, and I don't want to post it for free without permission.

    You're learning.

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    Stick with Wyden. The big corporations don't influence him.


    Public option? Preserve the estate tax? Oh no -- Ron's got other ideas.

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        Yes, actually many do. Huffman isn't Wyden and isn't beholden to anyone. Like Maurer he can be no worse than the status quo so many are willing to try soemthing new. What we have clearly isn't effective.

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    I've heard of Jack Bogdanski but I don't know his politics- would it be likely he'd vote GOP merely because he points up that most (almost all) of the Dems aren't that great?

    And, sure, Huffman is terrible. Doesn't mean I'm going to vote for AIPAC Ron Wyden, though.

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    Although Bogdanski spoke only of Wyden.

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    Great article, Carla -- yet another illustration of the vast contrast between Wyden and Huffman's backgrounds and positions this year.

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    Carla, I am sure everyone understands the dilemma of voting for someone who consistently lets you down, Wyden, and his opponent who is babbling about free market environmentalism, Huffman. However, this has been a miserable decade. It can no longer be the case that we vote to keep a certain party in power, because the alternative is supposedly worse.

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