Montana AG to Pull Out of National Attorneys General Association, Along with Texas, Missouri

Knudsen says ‘leftward shift’ has become ‘intolerable’

By DARRELL EHRLICK, Daily Montanan
Former House Speaker and now Republican Attorney General Austin Knudsen speaks to legislators before a vote on the House floor. Beacon file photo

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen and two other Republican attorneys general have pulled out of the national association of state attorneys general.

The move to pull out of the organization follows Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who left the organization last year. Until then, membership included every state attorney general in the union.

Knudsen, along with Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have all quit the National Association of Attorneys General. That organization had represented every other state’s attorney general and has been an organization for 125 years.

In a letter posted this week to Knudsen’s Facebook site, Paxton, Schmitt and Knudsen cite the “Association’s leftward shift over the past half decade, and said the organization had become “intolerable.”

The Daily Montanan reached out for more clarification about which issues were problematic for Knudsen but had received no comment by the end of the day Friday.

The letter also said that Knudsen, Paxton and Schmitt had met with the senior NAAG leadership, but nothing had been done to assuage their concerns.

“Those conversations were friendly, but nothing has been done. And we see no signs that anything will change in the future,” the letter stated.

When Marshall left the organization, he told it that he’d be hiring a young lawyer to his consumer protection division with the dues.

In 2020, the State of Montana, spent more than $41,000 in dues and expenses related to the membership, according to the state’s online expenditure database.

In 2021, that number had fallen to $7,951.

“We will need to discuss the administrative and financial details involved in extracting ourselves from NAAG,” the letter closes.

“While we are disappointed in their decision, NAAG would welcome the Missouri, Montana and Texas offices to re-engage as active members at any time,” said NAAG Chief Communications Officer Allison Gilmore.

It’s also a sudden move for Montana’s attorney general. In 2019, then-attorney general Tim Fox, also a Republican, was elected the leader of the organization and touted civility as his emphasis during his year-long term as leader.

The American Tort Reform Association cheered Knudsen’s move in a press release, and pointed to its recently released report, “The National Association of Attorneys General: A Nonprofit that Acts Like a Plaintiffs’ Firm.”

The conclusion of the report was deeply critical of the National Association of Attorneys General, saying it “has only one goal: suing businesses for profit.

“Far from being a neutral entity, the NAAG massively benefits financially from these lawsuits, and in turn, uses its considerable resources to help coordinate and facilitate even more lawsuits,” the report concluded.

That’s a conclusion that the national association disputes.

“We will continue to provide a community for attorneys general and their staff to work together in a bipartisan way to serve their constituents and advocate for the public interest,” Gilmore said. “Bipartisan committees of attorneys general, not NAAG staff, control how the organization’s funds are spent. Information can also be requested at any time by any NAAG member.”

Gilmore pointed to several resources including training, annual meetings, publication, counseling and appellate advocacy support as some of the services members receive.

This story originally appeared in the The Daily Montanan, which can be found online at dailymontanan.com.