Politico’s Heidi Pryzybyla has new reporting that delves deep into the dark money network judicial activist Leonard Leo has constructed, shining a light on the most pernicious corner of it: his collusion with Supreme Court spouse Ginni Thomas. There’s a lot of meat in this new report, but the timeline Pryzybyla lays out is the most instructive—and damning—evidence of Leo’s scheme to remake the judiciary and overturn long-standing legal precedents on abortion, affirmative action, and many other issues. He shows how he used Thomas as his “in” to the Supreme Court, turning the court into his tool with the billions he has amassed from anonymous donors. It also demonstrates the extent to which the Thomases are funded by the conservative network.
The timeline is critical, opening up potential new avenues of investigation for Congress and law enforcement. In September 2009, the court’s conservative majority decided to expand the scope of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, from determining whether the anti-Hillary Clinton documentary created by the nonprofit Citizens United violated campaign finance laws to whether they should use it to overturn previous decisions approving campaign finance laws. In November 2009, Cleta Mitchell—yes, Big Lie lawyer Cleta Mitchell—filed paperwork with the IRS to create a new nonprofit: Liberty Central Inc.
Liberty Central was the prototype organization created by the eventual Supreme Court decision, which was handed down in January 2010. It declared that corporations and nonprofits can spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns, using unlimited funds from unnamed donors: dark money.
In preparation for that decision, in December 2009 Ginni Thomas filed the paperwork incorporating Liberty Central in Virginia, with Leo as co-director. They had $500,000 in seed money from Harlan Crow, the megadonor who has also provided Clarence and Ginni Thomas with lavish gifts. The group had all the pieces in place to hit the ground running the minute the decision was handed down.
“Ginni really wanted to build an organization and be a movement leader,” one of Politico’s sources said. “Leonard [Leo] was going to be the conduit of that.” But Ginni Thomas proved to be a liability for the group, taking a far too public and political role. It came to a head in October, 2010 when Ginni Thomas made headlines with a telephone call to Anita Hill, demanding that Hill apologize for the sexual harassment allegations she raised against Clarence Thomas during his confirmation.
In November 2010, reports circulated that Ginni Thomas was going to step down from her leadership role, though Leo issued a denial. At the same time, Ginni Thomas sought and received expedited approval for incorporating a consulting business. That business was Liberty Consulting. Simultaneously, Leo reactivated one of his old organizations, the dormant Judicial Education Project. Leo then began using JEP to direct contracts to pay Ginni Thomas an amount similar to what she had earned at Liberty Central, which was as much as $100,000 between June 2011 and June 2012. Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported that in January 2012, Leo ordered GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway to bill the JEP $25,000 and then use the funds to “give” Ginni Thomas “another $25K,” emphasizing that the paperwork should have “[n]o mention of Ginni, of course.”
Since 2010, the JEP has spent “at least $25 million” on grants and contracts, Politico reports. The full amount, and where and to whom all that money has gone, is unclear. “Leo and Thomas did not respond to questions about when the arrangement to pay Thomas began, if it ended and how much she was paid or what type of work she did,” Politico reports.
Subsidizing the Thomases isn’t all the JEP has done. It is staffed and directed by former Thomas clerks, and since it was reactivated in 2010, it has been one of the forces behind challenges to the Affordable Care Act, voting rights, affirmative action, etc. It files amicus briefs for the challenges that are detailed and extensively researched, in essence doing the conservative justices’ homework for them when constructing their decisions, Przybyla reports.
In 2020 JEP became the 85 fund, with a subgroup, The Honest Elections Project. That organization used Trump’s Big Lie of a “stolen” election to amplify claims of voter fraud and state elections corruption, and to push for more voter suppression.
The story has many, many layers beyond the dark money that seems to fund Thomas' family. It delves into some of the offshoots in Leo’s network and its murky relationship with the Supreme Court beyond Thomas, including Justice Samuel Alito and the deceased Justice Antonin Scalia. All of it, though, coalesces on the corruption of the Supreme Court by Leo and his anonymous millionaires and billionaires. That provides even more fodder for the probes currently being conducted into Supreme Court ethics in the Senate and the D.C. attorney general’s inquiry into Leo’s dark money network.
Why does it seem like Republicans have such a hard time recruiting Senate candidates who actually live in the states they want to run in? We're discussing this strange but persistent phenomenon on this week's edition of "The Downballot." The latest example is former Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, who's been spending his time in Florida since leaving the House in 2015, but he's not the only one. Republican Senate hopefuls in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Montana, and Wisconsin all have questionable ties to their home states—a problem that Democrats have gleefully exploited in recent years. (Remember Dr. Oz? Of course you do.)
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