Franklin Center President Speaks Out on Defamation Lawsuit and Growing Conservation Easements Scandal

Former Democratic National Committee chairman and GreenTech Automotive Chairman, current Democratic Candidate for Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe with former President Bill Clinton at the unveiling of GreenTech Automotive’s electric MyCar at the manufacturing facility in Horn Lake, Miss. GreenTech is suing the Franklin Center after Watchdog reports on the company’s use of controversial immigration programs (AP Photo)

Lawsuits and political intimidation won’t stop the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity from continuing to publish watchdog articles, such as a recent investigation into the growing use of conservation easements to prevent development on private property or the expose on the controversial government “cash-for-visas” immigration program used by GreenTech Automotive, says Jason Stverak, the center’s president.

In an interview with TheBlaze, Stverak referred to fighting an $85 million lawsuit the center has found itself wrapped up in after the GreenTech investigation as ”the cost any good news organization must pay to report the news.”

Since its establishment in 2009, the Franklin Center has been conducting investigative reporting into government waste, abuse of power and institutional dysfunction, and Stverak vowed to continue delivering reports from the center’s network of Watchdog reporters at state capitals across the country.

“Bring it on, we’re here to defend the First Amendment,” Stverak said in a video interview (below) with TheBlaze contributor Mallory Factor.

Stverak told Factor that his organization was sued for “telling the truth” about Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee Chairman and current Virginia gubernatorial candidate who founded GreenTech.

The $85 million sought by the lawsuit represents the amount the company claims it lost as a result of the articles.

“Specifically, as a direct and express result of the articles published by Defendants … investors are wavering in their commitment to provide $25 million in investments already promised to GTA,” the defamation lawsuit said. “GTA…intended to raise $60 million in capital, (and) is now in significant danger as a direct result of the loss of investor confidence in GTA arising from the publication of Defendants’ articles.”

The Franklin Center maintains that the articles were not intended to and did not accuse GreenTech of fraud.

Stverak also discussed the investigations Watchdog reporters are conducting on conservation easements.Watchdog reporter Dustin Hurst explained the scandal in a column for The Washington Examiner: 

Here’s how it works: Private property owners, either interested in preserving trails, wetlands, scenic views or open spaces or looking for generous tax benefits, donate or sell off their development rights — including resource extraction — to government organizations or qualified nonprofit groups like Ducks Unlimited or The Nature Conservancy.

The arrangement, known as a conservation easement, forever encumbers the property. Even if the property owner sells the land or gifts it to heirs, the agreement legally blocks development.

“What we’re seeing now is more and more large amounts of land bought up by environmental groups or wildlife groups which are getting money, taxpayer dollars, from the federal government to do the same exact thing,” Stverak said.

“We’re having more and more land that is being locked away from good energy development that’s helping drive the country right now” Stverak said, going on to add that he considers this a violation of property rights.

Stverak also discussed Al Gore’s hypocritical environmental practices, the Department of Justice’s surveillance of reporters, and upcoming Franklin Center investigations.

Watch Jason Stverak’s full interview below:

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