Ginni Thomas' work with conservative activists led to movement that helped overturn precedent
Conservative activist Virginia “Ginni” Thomas walks during a break in a voluntary interview Sept. 29, 2022, in Washington, D.C., with the House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press.
The conservative legal movement gained ground after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down restrictions on independent campaign spending by corporations in the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling.
The wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, had already set up a conservative nonprofit before the decision while working with Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo, Politico reports.
She also had a financial backer: Harlan Crow, a wealthy donor who has bankrolled luxury vacations at his private properties and on his yacht for the Thomases. He donated $500,000 in seed money to the group, according to the report.
“From those early discussions among Leo, Thomas and Crow would spring a billion-dollar force that has helped remake the judiciary and overturn long-standing legal precedents on abortion, affirmative action and many other issues,” the article says. “It funded legal scholars to devise theories to challenge liberal precedents, helped to elect state attorneys general willing to apply those theories and launched lavish campaigns for conservative judicial nominees who would cite those theories in their rulings from the bench.”
Nonprofits benefited, the article explains, after the Citizens United decision led to rulings that “unleashed a flow of anonymous donor money to nonprofit groups run by political activists.”
Ginni Thomas left her new nonprofit, called Liberty Central, after criticism stemming from its efforts to block projects of then-President Barack Obama, including the Affordable Care Act. Instead, she created a for-profit consulting business called Liberty Consulting.
And Leo resurrected a dormant group called the Judicial Education Project, which would become “a major supplier” of amicus briefs to the Supreme Court, Politico reports. The Judicial Education Project is now called the 85 Fund; it received $117 million in anonymous funds in 2021.
One amicus brief joined by the Judicial Education Project argued against the minimum coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act. The lead attorney on the brief was John Eastman, the former Chapman University law professor who wrote memos on scenarios that could be used to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Most of the donors to the conservative effort are shielded by disclosure. At one point, Leo directed a Republican polling company to pay Ginni Thomas thousands of dollars for consulting work in 2011 and 2012, according to Politico and past reporting by the Washington Post. The polling company was run by former Trump political adviser Kellyanne Conway.
“Now, Liberty Consulting is a focus of interest from congressional committees probing the Supreme Court’s ethics disclosures,” Politico reports. “Senate Democrats have demanded that Leo and Crow provide a list of ‘gifts, payments or other items of value’ they’ve given Thomas and her husband.”
Leo’s network of nonprofits, meanwhile, have received hundreds of millions of dollars in annual donations. They are under investigation by the Washington, D.C., attorney general.
Leo became chairman of another nonprofit, CRC Advisors, in 2020. It has been paid at least $43 million by the Judicial Education Project and another group, according to Politico. CRC Advisors also promoted a documentary on the life of Justice Thomas.
“Together, the probes have combined to raise the question of whether Leo’s groups have taken advantage of lax disclosure laws to send additional business and funds to Ginni Thomas, among other activists,” the article reports. “That would be legal as long as Thomas was providing services commensurate with the payments.”
“The real question,” said Pennsylvania tax lawyer Laura Solomon in an interview with Politico, is “what is Ginni Thomas qualified to do, what did they pay her to do, and was it fair market value?”