Last year, The New York Times broke a story about the largest nefarious dark money deal to date, a $1.6 billion transaction that gave arch-conservative activist Leonard Leo even more power to run the whole show on the right. The Times has a follow-up this week detailing where a small pot of that money has gone: to the vast web of dark money groups Leo controls, and back into his own pocket.
Marble Freedom Trust, the entity Leo created with that $1.6 billion, paid out $182.7 million in the first year, according to tax filings obtained by the liberal transparency group Accountable.US and shared with the Times. The Schwab Charitable Fund got $153.8 million and the Concord Fund, formerly known as the Judicial Crisis Network, got $28.9 million. Where the money went from there is a secret, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling. That ruling was largely thanks to Leo, who helped get the 5-4 conservative majority of justices who decided that case on the court.
The Times asked Leo about the Marble Freedom Trust and he responded just as you’d expect: He declared the far right the victims in this scenario and made sure to include antisemitic undertones. “It’s high time for the conservative movement to be among the ranks of George Soros, Hansjörg Wyss, Arabella Advisors and other left-wing philanthropists, going toe-to-toe in the fight to defend our Constitution and its ideals,” Leo said in a provided statement.
There’s no direct documentation showing what the two groups did with that $182.7 million but records from the groups show that the Schwab Fund gave $141.5 million to The 85 Fund during the same time frame. The 85 Fund, by the way, is another Leo project that in turn funds an entire network of groups Leo has set up. That includes the Honest Elections Project, a voter suppression campaign group. In 2021, The 85 Fund paid $21.75 million to the for-profit CRC Advisors consulting firm. Guess who runs it? If you guessed Leonard Leo, you’re catching on to how all this works.
“Several other entities in Mr. Leo’s network, including the Concord Fund,” the Times reports, “have also paid CRC Advisors millions of dollars in the last two years, tax records show.” Leo is doing quite well thanks to the beneficence of his other billionaire pals (like Harlan Crow!).
In his statement to the Times, Leo said that CRC Advisors “employs nearly 100 best-in-class professionals whose expertise goes across all aspects of public affairs, and we deliver results that are leading the conservative movement to win more than it has ever before.” That’s hard to dispute given that Leo has helped conservatives secure a massive chunk of the federal judiciary over the years, with the Supreme Court as the cherry on top.
If there’s a supervillain in American politics today, it is Leonard Leo. If there’s a shadier—but completely legal—dark money deal than the $1.6 billion Marble endowment, you’d be hard-pressed to find it.
Here’s how it worked: Barre Seid, “an electronics manufacturing mogul,” donated 100% of the shares of Tripp Lite, his electrical device manufacturing company, to Leo’s new dark money group, Marble Freedom Trust. Right after the donation of those shares, the company sold to an Irish-American conglomerate called Eaton for $1.65 billion. Tripp Lite is a private company that doesn’t have to disclose financials. Eaton is a publicly-traded multinational that is headquartered in Dublin, Ireland. The proceeds of the sale went entirely to Marble Freedom Trust, which allowed Seid to avoid paying taxes on that $1.65 billion.
In one deal, you get a billionaire dodging his taxes and a slush fund for Leo to enrich himself personally, while buying off a very big chunk of the Republican Party (looking at you, “moderate” Sen. Susan Collins!), which in turn keeps giving him judges who in turn aid him in his ambition to take over the country.
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