If these were internal Exxon-Mobil e-mails, the trial lawyers would be racing out the door with only one pants-leg filled and every Green press flack would be demanding this lead the evening news and front every newspaper above the fold. If similar e-mails came from the RNC showing racism or homophobia, the New York Times would not demur in the name of privacy, it would call for the GOP to go into federal receivership.

Since there’s federal grant money involved, might there be False Claims Act suits? That’s not my area, but I’d be interested in hearing from someone who knows.

UPDATE: A reader emails:

Please just identify me as a “government attorney” or something like that if you choose to post this.

In response to your question about whether the Climategate scandal could lead to a false claims case, the answer is probably no. A “false claim” generally means a false statement with a negative impact on the public fisc–a padded bill, an understated tax return, etc. Thus, it’s not enough to show that Research Institute X lied and received public money; the Institute’s lies must have caused the receipt of public money. Maybe that can be shown here (e.g., false statements in an accepted grant proposal), but I haven’t seen it yet.

However, if this does turn out to be a good false claims case, the judgment would likely dwarf the amount of grant money involved. Damages are automatically trebled, and defendants are also on the hook for penalties of $5 to $10 thousand for every false claim submitted. So, if Institute X filed semiannual grant applications for ten years and received a total of $5 million in government grants, their false claims liability would be $15.1 to $15.2 million.

If the case is brought by a private whistleblower, he/she would be in line for a qui tam share of up to 30% of the total award under the federal act (it’s 50% under California’s act). Using the hypothetical numbers above, that would mean a little over $4.5 million. Not a bad day’s work.

BTW, thanks for bringing up the False Claims Act! One of my personal pet peeves is that this nifty statute gets far too little attention. It is one of the most powerful fraud-fighting weapons in the government’s arsenal, but it is also one of the least known. Moreover, its power derives largely from its free market nature–it enables private individuals to fight large and politically-connected entities who might be able to quash or defang an official inquiry, and it promises lucrative rewards if they are successful. It creates an army of mercenary Davids, if you will.

Also BTW, there’s lots of info about false claims litigation at the Taxpayers Against Fraud website:

Well, it’s too early to say, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that false information led to grants. And yes, though I’m not an expert on False Claims Act stuff, we wrote about it a bit in The Appearance of Impropriety, and I’m glad to hear that my impression that it’s underused is correct.