The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act is a law adopted to fight organized crime. Yet, in recent months, a chorus has emerged calling for a breathtaking abuse of RICO by state attorneys general and the Department of Justice against political opponents.
Specifically, lawmakers, academics and the “green” lobby demand that prosecutors use the law to extort money from legitimate businesses who oppose them, under threat of RICO investigations and prosecution. The objective is to silence political opposition, extract a vow not to support other opponents and, finally, to force companies to underwrite the global warming industry. Yes, the global warming industry.
It’s an industry that includes not only professional activists and academics but also businesses hoping to profit from peddling climate fear. They have found allies in politicians seeking to deploy the awesome weight of the federal government to investigate those blocking the industry from getting every law and policy it wants.
In a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, pressed Attorney General Loretta Lynch about using RICO to investigate climate change skeptics. Mr. Whitehouse specifically inquired into possible action against “the climate denial apparatus that the fossil fuel industry has erected.”
“This matter has been discussed,” replied Ms. Lynch. “We have received information about it and have referred it to the FBI to consider whether or not it meets the criteria for which we could take action on.”
Ms. Lynch’s response — specifically her use of “could” — suggests the Justice Department is looking for some way to intervene, an approach at odds with her department’s job of assessing what it “should” do. After all, investigations are costly, intrusive and even ruinous, and should be undertaken judiciously.
While RICO suits, or the threat thereof, can be costly for those at the receiving end, they can be lucrative for others. For example, we now know that the RICO chorus hopes to obtain massive settlements to fund the global warming machine’s academic and activist components.
RICO predators expect targeted companies to behave ritually: pay up under threat of years of bad press and litigation. These costs are passed on to consumers, of course. But the far greater threat is to democratic debate, given the lawsuits’ other objective, which proponents openly acknowledge: to coerce their critics into silence and extract vows not to fund further opposition.