The Rule of Law Trust is a 501(c)(4) group founded in 2018. Its sole employee is Leonard Leo, who has been called “arguably the most powerful figure in the federal justice system.” Sitting at the helm of a “network of interlocking nonprofits,” his influence has touched Supreme Court nominations and the American judicial system more broadly. RLT’s stated mission is to “advance conservative principles and causes through communications, research, strategy, and assistance to other organizations,” yet the group keeps its operations completely private. RLT does not have a website and “claimed it had no employees and no volunteers in its first year and listed what appears to be a virtual office in Virginia as its main address.” RLT notably received a $153 million grant from Leo’s Marble Freedom Trust entity, which was itself the recipient of an unprecedented $1.6 billion contribution in 2021 from conservative mega-donor Barre Seid.
Leonard Leo is the sole employee listed on RLT’s tax forms. Leo was “widely known as a confidant to Trump” and served as Trump’s Supreme Court advisor during the nominations of Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Neil Gorsuch.
Leo has been called “arguably the most powerful figure in the federal justice system” with his “network of interlocking nonprofits” that aggressively support conservative judges.
Neil Corkery founded RLT in 2018. He and his wife Ann Corkery are influential right-wing operatives closely involved in Leonard Leo’s network of nonprofits seeking to advance religious right-wing agendas. Salon reported that the Corkerys have used the network they built alongside Leonard Leo “to prop up conservative judicial nominees”
RLT drew in $80 million in 2018. The group kept its expenditures relatively low for its first two years in operation, though it ramped up its spending in 2020. Over its lifetime, RLT has given out $36.9 million to various groups – most of them right-wing, Leonard Leo-linked groups. Of that lifetime $36.9 million, $21.5 million was a one-time payment to the Judicial Crisis Network in 2020, just prior to JCN’s multi-million dollar campaign to support Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. See the appendix for a full list of payments.
Judicial Crisis Network is the lynchpin of hard-right activist Leonard Leo’s efforts to capture the court system and has led campaigns that resulted in the confirmation of five Supreme Court justices.
In 2020, RLT gave $21.5 million to the Judicial Crisis Network. In September 2020, eight days after the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Judicial Crisis Network announced its plans to spend $10 million on an ad blitz supporting the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. This $21.5 million donation from RLT to JCN makes up nearly 59 percent of all payments to other groups made by RLT.
Donors Trust and its affiliate organization, Donors Capital Fund, are two of the most influential conservative organizations in contemporary American politics. In 2013, Mother Jones dubbed Donors Trust the “dark-money ATM of the right.” Donors Trust was founded by a pair of libertarian activists who wanted to give wealthy donors the ability to anonymously donate to conservative causes without any of the potential inter-generational conflicts of family foundations. By giving their money to Donors Trust, donors could influence the course of American politics long after their death and without the possibility that their heirs might decide to support liberal causes instead. In 2020 alone, Donors Trust distributed over $185 million in grants.
The Barton Group was incorporated in 2019 in Virginia by Jason Torchinsky, of the Leonard Leo-connected law firm Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky. That same year, RLT paid the Barton Group $2.59 million for “consulting.” The Barton Group does not have a public presence or website. In 2021, Torchinsky incorporated Barton Group II LLC – which similarly has no public presence.
Holtzman Vogel has a history of setting up entities with no public presence to further Leo’s network which allows him to shuffle money around to further his political goals. In 2016, the firm set up three Leo-controlled nonprofits: America Engaged, BH Fund, and Freedom and Opportunity Fund. These three entities have since been used to funnel millions to organizations that boosted the Supreme Court nominations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Leonard Leo became the president of all three organizations at the time of their formation, and within the first two years of incorporation, these three groups raised about $33 million. However, Leo’s involvement with these groups was not known to the public for three years.
Jonathan Bunch is a former senior vice president at the Federalist Society who has been described as Leonard Leo’s “right-hand man.” Bunch has been involved in several Leo-linked entities and is currently the president of CRC Advisors, a public relations consulting firm Leo founded in 2020. CRC Advisors grew out of CRC Strategies, a consulting firm that played a key role in supporting Leo’s efforts to influence the Supreme Court and federal judiciary.
From 2007 to 2008, Jonathan Bunch was the executive director of “Better Courts for Missouri,” a nonprofit organization that aimed to fundamentally alter the state’s merit-based judicial nomination process.
Better Courts’ strategy reflects the Leo network’s typical playbook at the state level. In Iowa, Judicial Crisis Network financed a 2018 campaign that advocated for giving partisan legislators the power to select members of judicial nomination commissions, “meaning politicians will choose every member.”
This campaign led to a more conservative Iowa Supreme Court that struck down abortion rights and upheld a policy that allows police officers to charge drivers with crimes other than what they were stopped for, which was criticized for being racially discriminatory.
America Engaged is a non-profit within the Leo network formed by Leo with no public presence. In 2017, American Engaged gave $1 million to the National Rifle Association (NRA); that same year, the NRA announced a $1 million ad campaign supporting Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination.
YAS LLC is a consulting firm incorporated by CRC Advisors Senior Vice President Maria Marshall. CRC Advisors was launched in 2020 with Leonard Leo as its founder and is a spin-off of CRC Strategies, a consulting firm that played a key role in supporting Leo’s efforts to influence the Supreme Court and federal judiciary.
Marshall was the director of operations at the Federalist Society from 2012 to 2020. She is also a board member of the Orthodox Christian Network, which produces Orthodox Christian content on behalf of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America.
Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky is a boutique law firm that represents “some of the nation’s largest super PACs and their related nonprofits” on the conservative side, including American Crossroads, Americans for Prosperity, the Honest Elections Project, the BH Fund, the Freedom and Opportunity Fund, and American Engaged among others. According to McClatchy, Holtzman Vogel “specializ[es] in creative legal maneuvers that allow donors to conservative causes to remain anonymous.”
People United for Privacy is an advocacy group that opposes political financial disclosure regulations, claiming “disclosure rules are being abused to silence opponents.” The group attempts to build local coalitions and distribute model legislation that aims to restrict donor disclosure regulations. According to watchdog The Center For Media And Democracy, People United for Privacy is a “front group” launched by State Policy Network in 2016. SPN is an alliance of think tanks pushing conservative and libertarian policy at the state level connected to the Koch Brothers political network and other national conservative think tanks.
People United For Privacy has also received notable funding from Wellspring Committee; another Leonard Leo-connected funding group.
Regnery Publishing is a leading publisher of books by conservative and right-wing thinkers. The New York Times called its founder, Henry Regnery, the “godfather of modern conservatism” due to his elevation of influential conservative thinkers such as William F. Buckley.
In 2018, RLT paid Regnery Publishing $230,000 for “research.” In 2019, Regnery published Justice On Trial by Judicial Crisis Watch president Carrie Severino. Justice On Trial chronicled Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation process. The book aimed to debunk the allegations against Kavanaugh and paint him as a victim of a liberal press junket. A Politico review of the book said that it “was so one-sided that it read more like a legal brief written by two very competent and fiercely committed advocates.”
The BH Group was formed in Virginia in 2016, and the company’s Virginia business records do not list any staff. However, Leonard Leo is identified as an “authorized person” in a 2022 filing update with the Virginia State Corporation Commission regarding the organization’s registered agent. Leo listed the BH Group as his employer in a campaign finance filing.
In 2018, RLT reimbursed BH Group to the tune of $4,345,000 — more than RLT spent in that year. It reimbursed BH Group another $2,100,000 in 2019. Citizens for Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group, summarized the organization’s relationship, stating: “it appears that a firm partly owned by the sole trustee of RLT paid all of RLT’s expenses, including $1.8 million in consulting payments to two former Federalist Society associates who now work at a consulting firm founded by the trustee, and then RLT reimbursed that firm for the expenses.”
Rule of Law Trust received a substantial $153 million grant from Leonard Leo’s Marble Freedom Trust in 2021. In Marble Freedom Trust’s inaugural tax filing, RLT was listed as a related entity. MFT is a nonprofit headed by Leonard Leo formed in 2020 that received an unprecedented $1.6 billion contribution in 2021 from electronics manufacturing mogul and conservative mega-donor Barre Seid. The single-gift contribution was likely the largest donation of its kind to a politically oriented nonprofit in American history.
|Judicial Crisis Network||$21,500,000|
|Barton Group LLC||$2,590,000|
|Baker Botts LLP||$1,000,000|
|People United For Privacy||$500,000|
|Library Of Congress||$250,000|
|Semmes Associates LLC||$125,000|