Lobbying & Legislation

Federalist Society's Leonard Leo helped raise $250M to promote judges and causes

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Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, has had a visible role recommending conservative nominees for the federal bench.

But his influence extends further, the Washington Post reports. Leo “is the maestro of a network of interlocking nonprofits working on media campaigns and other initiatives to sway lawmakers by generating public support for conservative judges,” according to the report.

In that role, Leo and his allies have helped the outside nonprofits raise $250 million between 2014 and 2017 from mostly secret donors to promote conservative judges and causes, according to a Washington Post summary of five takeaways from the article. The nonprofits did not have to disclose donors under IRS rules.

The nonprofits often share board members, administrative support, addresses and phone numbers. Nine of the groups hired the same media relations firm to support the nomination of then-Supreme Court justice nominee Neil M. Gorsuch through coordinated pundit appearances, op-eds, online videos and expert comments.

Another group, Independent Women’s Voice, supported then-Supreme Court justice nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh after receiving more than $4 million from the Freedom and Opportunity Fund, a group that names Leo as its president.

Leo is president of another group called the BH Fund, which received more than $24 million from a single donor who has not been disclosed.

Leo says his advocacy for judicial candidates is separate from his role at the Federalist Society. And the Federalist Society says it is nonpartisan.

But one nonprofit that supports conservative judicial nominees, the Judicial Crisis Network, has offices on the same hallway as the Federalist Society. JCN’s president, Daniel Casey, is not paid by his group, nor is he paid by three other nonprofits he helps lead. But he has received more than $1.5 million from the Federalist Society over nine years for media training through a firm based at his home.

In addition, Leo joined the board of another nonprofit called Reclaim New York in 2013. Another board member was Steve Bannon, who later work as an adviser to President Donald Trump. A third board member, Rebekah Mercer, later donated nearly $6 million to the Federalist Society.

“I separate my advocacy from the educational work of the Federalist Society,” Leo told the Washington Post in a statement. “I put in a full day’s work for the Society and spend a substantial amount of my personal time on the other public service work I also love.”

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