As we’ve discussed in recent posts, State Attorneys General often take positions on important consumer protection policy issues through a joint letter from the National Association of Attorneys General, often referred to as a “NAAG letter.” This leads to the inevitable question – what is NAAG and what does it do? As former State Assistant Attorneys General, we often find ourselves answering that question, and can shed some light into this organization that has often perplexed onlookers.
It is common for people to use “NAAG” as a description of a group of AGs acting together, like in a NAAG letter or consumer protection multistate. But this is a misnomer — NAAG is really just a nonpartisan association that facilitates the goals of the State Attorney General Community. While letters, grants, working groups, and meetings may be administered by NAAG, the organization itself has little to nothing to do with the actual underlying policy. Instead, NAAG is governed by an Executive Committee of Attorneys General, which employs an Executive Director and other leadership staff to run the operations of the organization. With the recent announced retirement of the current Director, the AGs are currently on the hunt for a new leader of day to day operations.
So what does NAAG do when it comes to consumer protection? Here are some key roles that they facilitate:
NAAG policy letters are not drafted by NAAG, but rather by State AGs or their staff and signed onto by other participating AGs. States use NAAG to facilitate the sign-on process, including organizing discussion calls and collecting signatures. If a bipartisan group of 36 or more Attorneys General agree, a policy letter can be placed on NAAG letterhead and become an official “NAAG letter.” Any revisions to these letters as part of that process are done by the AG offices.
State AG staff participate in a number of collaborative working groups on different topics of common interest, like privacy, combatting robocalls, negative options, and government imposters. These working groups share ideas and information, which can lead to multistate investigation efforts on common topics. NAAG itself does not determine these priorities and conversations, rather it provides administrative support for the groups such as conference lines and maintaining contact lists. NAAG staff are typically not participants in these calls.
NAAG administers multiple financial funds that were obtained from past consumer multistate enforcement efforts, for example the Financial Services Fund, which was created by the National Mortgage Settlement. NAAG holds each fund, but use of the funds is determined by a bipartisan committee of AGs. NAAG “grants” are available to State AGs who apply and meet specific criteria and are approved by the committee. Grants have been used to fund meetings, trainings, research, and the costs associated with certain investigations and litigation. Use of the funds is governed strictly by the application, and expenditures are monitored by NAAG to ensure compliance with the committee’s grant. Where applicable and consistent with law, applicants must agree to try and repay the grant if money is available when a matter is concluded with a monetary recovery. Grants are typically used to help fund the costs (largely document storage, expert witness costs, and travel) of more complex multistate investigations that involve a bipartisan group of State AGs, for example in the opioid settlements, including with McKinsey & Company. It may seem odd to an outsider to see millions paid “to reimburse NAAG” in these settlements, but this is essentially a reimbursement of the fund used to pay the expenditures of investigation that State AG budgets would not have been able to absorb. No reimbursement to the funds is expected where the funded activity does not result in a recovery, and no interest factor is included. Large settlements might even contribute extra money to these funds for future enforcement efforts.
Meetings and Trainings
As if one acronym wasn’t enough, NAAG also includes the National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute, or NAGTRI. NAGTRI is guided by a bipartisan advisory board of Attorneys General. NAAG and NAGTRI facilitate meetings and trainings throughout the U.S. each year, including through national events and locally for individual Attorney General offices. These meetings and trainings are invaluable to AG staff in particular, as it is one of the few opportunities they have to receive AG-specific trainings on a variety of topics that affect their practice. The content of trainings are largely spearheaded by State AG staff who participate on committees to identify topics and volunteer their time to serve as the faculty. NAAG annually recognizes the AAGs who significantly contribute to developing and presenting these programs (shameless self-promotion here).
While NAAG provides a helpful role to State AGs by facilitating the interests of its members, the AGs and their staff, it ultimately is an association that acts at the direction of its members. If you want to keep up with or even influence AG priorities, or have an issue that the State AGs might be looking at for enforcement, the real place to go is the AGs themselves, either directly or through some of the key meetings and working groups. Our State AG group regularly facilitates such conversations and is here to help.