Supreme Court
Ginni And Clarence

Ginni and Clarence Thomas

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 Postreported 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.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

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Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas

On Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas released his long-delayed 2022 financial disclosure statement, revealing three more previously unknown trips Thomas took last year courtesy of his billionaire “friend,” Harlan Crow. That includes one trip where Thomas says Crow provided a private plane due to “increased security risks following the Dobbs decision leak.”

Thomas doesn’t explain why those concerns about facing the public after a ruling was leaked in which he helped strip a fundamental right away from half the population also required that Crow cover the cost of Thomas’ meals on that trip. But then, Thomas also says Crow paid for transportation following an ice storm, so apparently even an inconvenience is a sufficient excuse to line up a private plane. It’s good to have friends.

Thomas' disclosure also contains a section in which he explains that he never listed these trips in previous years because past rules didn’t explicitly state that he had to report “transportation that substitutes for commercial transportation.” That “explicitly state” is doing a serious amount of heavy lifting for a guy whose entire job is to determine how laws apply to situations not explicitly detailed in those laws.

In addition to Thomas’ disclosure, his attorney had a statement in defense of his client. Anyone concerned that Thomas’ statement didn’t have enough complaints about liberals just coming after Thomas because of his “judicial philosophy” can find plenty of such complaints courtesy of attorney Elliot Berke.

According to Berke, Thomas has always tried for “full transparency.” It’s just that no one told him explicitly that reporting gifts covered private plane trips, housing, meals, or … gifts. “After reviewing Justice Thomas’s records,” writes Berke, “I am confident there has been no willful ethics transgression, and any prior reporting errors were strictly inadvertent.” Berke seems to think this puts any issues to bed.

Again, this is a Supreme Court justice saying he didn’t have to comply with the rules because they did not explicitly include the situation in which he accepted a gift, and that justice’s attorney following up by saying anything the justice did wrong is forgivable because it was “inadvertent.” These are standards every criminal defendant in the nation should applaud.

Hitting a big right-wing checkbox, Berke’s statement twice accuses left-wing critics of Thomas of “weaponizing” ethics rules, which is another way of saying investigators at ProPublica uncovered Thomas’ long list of unreported transactions and exposed at least a portion of the acts he was hiding. But Berke has an excuse for why Thomas didn’t have to explain any of this.

For several months now, left wing “watchdog” groups have been attacking Justice Thomas for alleged ethical violations largely stemming from his relationships with personal friends who happen to be wealthy.

What Berke doesn’t mention is that Thomas met those “personal friends” after he joined the Supreme Court. And the reason they “happen to be wealthy” is that they first met when Thomas joined Crow on his private jet. Thomas accepting gifts of flight, lodging, and meals from Crow isn’t something that developed because they were old school chums. It was Crow's wealth that brought them together to begin with.

In fact, that first meeting came when Crow provided Thomas with free transportation to a conservative speaking gig, which is exactly what Crow did again last year. Twice.

The third trip in 2022 was another incident in which Thomas apparently took a vacation on Crow’s dime—as one does when one’s “friend” just happens to be a billionaire. The first time Thomas accepted such a trip was just months after he and Crow first met. The exact nature of the third 2022 trip wasn’t detailed in the disclosure statement, which only shows that Crow covered “transportation, meals, and lodging” while Thomas and his wife were “guests of source.” However, past trips have included international flights and lengthy stays on a private 162-foot yacht, with one such trip valued at over $500,000.

Despite multiple lavish trips, this is how Thomas described his own thoughts about travel.

“I don’t have any problem with going to Europe, but I prefer the United States, and I prefer seeing the regular parts of the United States. I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that. There’s something normal to me about it. I come from regular stock, and I prefer that — I prefer being around that.”

That statement comes from a documentary about Thomas’ life. A documentary funded in large part by … Harlan Crow. Odds are pretty good that wherever the undescribed trip Crow funded last year took place, it was not a Walmart parking lot.

In addition to the new trips, the biggest addition to Thomas’ disclosure is the word “inadvertently.” According to the form, Thomas inadvertently overlooked no fewer than 12 instances in which bank accounts or insurance policies should have been reported on past forms.

“Inadvertently” is also used to explain how Thomas left off the fact that Crow purchased his real estate property in Savannah, Georgia, in 2014. But then Thomas claims that the deal, which included Crow fixing up Thomas’ childhood home while allowing Thomas’ mother to continue living there, then buying Thomas out for an amount well above fair market value, actually represented a capital loss. So that’s no big deal.

Overall, Thomas' statement seems more like something an attorney would provide a petty criminal trying to escape charges for kiting checks than a document appropriate to a Supreme Court justice. Only most of those petty criminals would actually have to pay for their transgressions. Thomas will not.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.