As the Supreme Court prepared to decide the Citizens United case that designated money as political speech, Ginni Thomas — wife of Justice Clarence Thomas — along with conservative activists quickly and quietly filed to create exactly the type of non-profit group that would benefit from the decision, Politico reports.
In the ensuing years, according to Politico, Thomas worked closely with Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo to build a conservative movement that would fuel changes to the judiciary and help overturn laws regarding abortion, affirmative action, and other issues important to the right wing.
“Ginni really wanted to build an organization and be a movement leader,” a source familiar with her thinking at that time told Politico. “Leonard [Leo] was going to be the conduit of that.”
Much of this was made possible through funding from Nazi-obsessed billionaire Harlan Crow. Crow, who infamously collects Hitler paintings and Nazi memorabilia, has been in the news recently for giving grandiose favors to the Thomases, including footing the bill for their grand-nephew’s tuition, purchasing the house where Clarence Thomas’ mother lived, and paying for lavish vacations that the Thomases enjoyed. The justice has been under scrutiny for his relationship with Crow due to his failure to report the vacations and other gifts in his financial disclosures to the court.
Crow provided the initial donations for Liberty Central, the group Thomas and Leo created, that was among the first of what Politico describes as a “billion-dollar network of groups, most of which are registered as tax-exempt charities or social welfare organizations.” Liberty Central’s goal was to combat a number of Obama era efforts, including health care reform. When the group and its leadership became public, Thomas was forced to sever her ties with the group. But she immediately created a for-profit consulting business with a similar name, Liberty Consulting. Leo then used a previously dormant tax-exempt group, Judicial Education Project (JEP), to pay Thomas a similar amount to what Liberty Central had paid her. JEP would later submit a number of amicus briefs to the Supreme Court advocating for conservative causes.
Although groups like JEP should mostly focus on charitable efforts, Politico reports that it is not clear what charitable services Thomas provided, whether she was paid a fair market value for her services or if she was qualified to provide those services.
“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?’” Laura Soloman, a Pennsylvania tax attorney who works with many tax-exempt charitable groups, told Politico.
The media outlet also uncovered discrepancies and irregularities in JEP’s financial reporting to the IRS, noting among other oddities that during a year that Wellspring Committee (a group Leo is involved with) claimed to have donated $136,000 to the organization, JEP reported receiving less than $50,000 in donations.