Free Market Founders Battling it Out in Court
The founders of the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic are caught up in a court battle concerning the future of the group. One of the founders, David Schnare, has been accused of inaccurately listing the company as tax-exempt and attempted extortion. The Clinic has sought over the years to debunk theories regarding global warming.
Schnare, 70, was part of the Trump “beachhead team” at the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) during the transition between presidential administrations. In a recent interview, he stated, “Attorneys are not supposed to talk about and try cases in the press,” yet added, “I completely deny all these nasty accusations.”
The litigation concerns three civil lawsuits filed against Schnare by Matthew Hardin, 28, the chairman of Free Market’s board. Since both belong to the same group, the case, at first, appears to be quite unusual. The cases will ultimately be consolidated under a single judge.
Schnare founded Free Market with Mr. Horner in 2011 and the company has since earned tens of thousands of dollars from legal fees and penalties assessed against government agencies for not sufficiently responding to freedom of information filings attempting to gain access to email correspondence regarding climate control between scientists. The group has tried to gain access in order to debunk climate control theories and perceptions.
Schnare took a leave of absence in January 2017 to join the Trump administration’s transition team at the E.P.A. He had previously worked at the agency for 33 years and does not deny that climate change is occurring. Yet, he has questioned the potential impacts and the costs of fighting it, believing that both could be overstated. His return to the E.P.A. was brief and he resigned within two months after his views clashed with those of Scott Pruitt, the controversial administrator of the group. Schnare said the found Pruitt’s views to completely lack scientific understanding of climate change.
However, when the founder tried to return to Free Market, Hardin told him he was not welcome, mainly because Schnare had applied for status with the Internal Revenue Service that would let Free Market accept tax-free donations, but he subsequently created the organization as a limited liability company. Thus, the group could not be tax exempt. Schnare acknowledged he had “made some significant errors.” The current lawsuit against him, however, alleges he produced “different versions of organizational documents, as circumstances dictated,” committing fraud.
Free Market may be required by the Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.) to return contributions and require donors to amend their tax returns. Hardin and Horner have since created a new agency that would get Free Market’s money and are hoping to dissolve Free Market altogether.
The agency does not disclose its donors. However, Lawson R. Bader, chief executive of DonorsTrust said if any donation “has been made under false pretenses, that is a problem. We need that money back.”
Schnare said the lawsuit should never have happened. “We’re going to waste a whole lot of money that could have been used to do good things,” he said. “It will end; I just don’t know whether I will have lost my mind by then.”