U.S. Supreme Court

Conservative nonprofits funded $1.8M campaign to support Thomas on 25th SCOTUS anniversary

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GettyImages-Clarence Thomas October 2022

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas poses for an official portrait in the Supreme Court building Oct. 7, 2022, in Washington, D.C. The fundraising prowess of the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo was on display in advance of the 25th anniversary of Thomas’ confirmation. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Leonard Leo, a former executive vice president for the conservative Federalist Society, is a “behind-the-scenes” benefactor for conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices, supporting them during confirmation battles and again after they take the bench, according to the Washington Post.

His fundraising prowess was on display in advance of the 25th anniversary of Justice Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation. Conservative nonprofits “steered” by Leo spent at least $1.8 million for a “coordinated and sophisticated” public relations campaign supporting Thomas, according to the Washington Post’s examination of records and interviews.

“The campaign would stretch on for years and include the creation and promotion of a laudatory film about Thomas, advertising to boost positive content about him during internet searches, and publication of a book about his life,” the Washington Post reports.

A lawyer who “set the public relations campaign in motion and served as its public face” is Mark Paoletta, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who worked in the George H.W. Bush administration at the time of Thomas’ confirmation. Paoletta disclosed on financial disclosure forms before he joined the Trump administration that a nonprofit called the Judicial Education Project paid him and his company MP Strategies nearly $300,000.

While being paid, Paoletta wrote op-eds attacking Thomas accuser Anita Hill and supporting Thomas. He also worked with a public relations company tied to conservative nonprofits that created a Thomas fan Twitter account and websites that supported Thomas and opposed Hill’s accusations.

Paoletta also found a conservative filmmaker to make the Thomas film, called Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words. It was partly funded by the Harlan Crow family, an anonymous benefactor and the Judicial Education Project.

In 2017, Paoletta became counsel to then-Vice President Mike Pence and then served as general counsel for the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget. He told the Washington Post that he has not been paid to defend Thomas since the end of 2016, before he joined the Trump administration. He also said that any op-eds that he wrote supporting Thomas were his words alone, and no one approved what he wrote.

Paoletta said Thomas was a dear friend who has been “outrageously maligned because he is a Black conservative who has never bowed to those on the left who demand that he think a certain way because of the color of his skin.”

More recently, the Judicial Crisis Network continued the Thomas public relations campaign. Leo advises the group, which spent $1.5 million last year promoting the Thomas film. Leo left his position at the Federalist Society to head the public relations company that worked on the Thomas project, which is now called CRC Advisors.

Leo did not answer detailed questions from the Washington Post, but he did issue a statement praising the Thomas film.

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