Ginni Thomas and rightwing activists exploited supreme court ruling … – The Guardian US

In the months before the US supreme court handed down Citizens United, the 2010 ruling which unleashed a flood of dark money into American politics, the wife of a conservative justice worked with a prominent rightwing activist and a mega-donor closely linked to her husband to form a group to exploit the decision.

So said a blockbuster report from Politico, detailing moves by Ginni Thomas – wife of Justice Clarence Thomas – and Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society chief who has worked to stock the court with rightwingers, leading to a series of epochal decisions, including the removal of the federal right to abortion.

Half a million dollars in seed money, Politico said, came from Harlan Crow, the Nazi memorabilia-collecting billionaire whose extensive and mostly undeclared gifts to Clarence Thomas have fueled a spiraling supreme court ethics scandal.

Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democratic senator from Rhode Island and champion of ethics reform, said the report laid out “the creepy intermingling of dark billionaire money, phoney front groups, far-right extremists and the United States supreme court”.

Politico noted that the ruling in Citizens United was widely expected after justices “took the unusual step of asking for re-arguments based on a sweeping question – whether they should overrule prior decisions approving laws that limited spending on political campaigns”.

Noting that conservative groups moved to capitalise faster than others, the site quoted an anonymous source as saying Ginni Thomas “really wanted to build an organisation and be a movement leader. Leonard was going to be the conduit of that.”

It also published a timeline of Thomas and Leo’s moves.

A nonprofit, Liberty Central, was incorporated with $500,000 from Crow on 31 December 2009, three-and-a-half months after the close of oral arguments in Citizens United.

The Citizens United decision was handed down on 21 January 2010, with Clarence Thomas objecting to disclosure rules.

On 18 February 2010, Ginni Thomas told the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) she had been “called to the frontlines”.

Ginni Thomas’s work on the hard right of US politics has already contributed to controversy surrounding her husband, not least through her support for Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election and Clarence Thomas’s refusal to recuse himself when investigations reached the supreme court.

Politico also noted how a Leo-linked group, the Judicial Education Project, paid Ginni Thomas up to $100,000 before transforming into a generator of amicus briefs to the court and becoming involved in the push to overturn Trump’s defeat as he sought a second term as president in 2020.

Connections between Leo and Ginni Thomas have made headlines before. The Washington Post reported how, in January 2012, Leo told the political strategist Kellyanne Conway – later White House counselor to Trump – to direct money to Ginni Thomas while urging: “No mention of Ginni, of course.”

Politico also noted that Ginni Thomas’s current entity, Liberty Consulting, is “a focus of interest from congressional committees”, with Senate Democrats demanding “Leo and Crow provide a list of ‘gifts, payments, or other items of value’ they’ve given Thomas and her husband”.

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Clarence Thomas has said he did not declare gifts from Crow, including holidays, travel, school fees and a property purchase, because he was advised he did not have to. Crow has said he did not discuss politics or business before the court with his friend.

Leo and Crow have resisted congressional disclosure demands. The chief justice, John Roberts, has rebuffed requests to testify about ethics matters. Supreme court justices are nominally subject to the same ethics regulations as all federal judges but in practice govern themselves. Senate Democrats have advanced supreme court ethics reform but it has next to no chance of passing, given Republican opposition.

Leo, Crow and Ginni Thomas did not comment to Politico. Lawyers for Leo have complained of harassment by Congress and dismissed a reported investigation of his work by the attorney general of Washington DC as politically biased.

Receiving business and funds from groups connected to Leo would be legal if Ginni Thomas provided services commensurate with such payments. Laura Solomon, a tax attorney for charitable groups and donors, told the site: “The real question then is, ‘What is Ginni Thomas qualified to do, what did they pay her to do, and was it fair market value?’”

Politico’s report made a splash among court watchers.

Norman Ornstein, emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said: “This stinks to high heaven. We need the Internal Revenue Service and the justice department to investigate. It looks like tax offenses, criminal ones, not to mention the sheer corruption. Leonard Leo and Ginni Thomas are despicable.”

The New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer – co-author of Strange Justice, a biography of Clarence Thomas, and author of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right – simply posted a fire emoji.

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