America Engaged was a nonprofit organization helmed by Leonard Leo that described itself as “a public policy organization dedicated to promoting the Constitution of the United States and its core structural features,” though it did not maintain a public profile. The organization was incorporated alongside the BH Fund and Freedom and Opportunity Fund by the conservative law firm Holtzman Vogel. These three entities were 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.
America Engaged received millions in donations from groups affiliated with Leo and seemed to be involved in shuffling money between Leonard Leo-linked nonprofits. In 2017 the organization received $2.3 million from the BH Fund.
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.
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 the judicial nomination commission, “meaning politicians will choose every member.”
Graves has served as chair of The 85 Fund since 2019.He was a director at America Engaged and is currently a director of the Freedom and Opportunity Fund — two 501(c)(4) organizations where Leonard Leo has served as an officer. Graves is a director at the Lucy Burns Institute, which publishes Ballotpedia, and has various ties to right-wing organizations. Graves is also:
Beginning in 2010, Scott Walker and his campaign for governor became the subject of multiple John Doe investigations looking into potential political corruption. Under Wisconsin law, a John Doe investigation is a type of secret investigation, similar to a grand jury, that can look into political corruption. Todd Graves represented targets of these John Doe investigations, namely the Wisconsin Club for Growth and “unnamed petitioner No. 2.”
In the aftermath of the investigations, the Wisconsin legislature limited the scope of future John Doe investigations, “restricting the length of time such probes can take to narrowing what allegations can be investigated” and “exempting political corruption charges.”
C. Boyden Gray is an attorney, lobbyist, and heir to a tobacco fortune through his grandfather Bowman Gray Sr., the president and chairman of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Gray began serving as a director of America Engaged in 2017.
Gray has multiple connections to Charles and David Koch and their affiliated groups. Gray served as the co-chair and a board member for Citizens for a Sound Economy, an early Koch group focused on deregulation which would later split into FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity. As recently as 2013, he was a board member of FreedomWorks, where he exerted influence over the Tea Party Movement.
Gray was influential in the push for deregulation during the Reagan and Bush administrations. While working in the Reagan administration, Gray wrote the original Executive Order 12291 (later re-numbered as EO 12866), requiring all government agency rules and regulations to undergo a cost-benefit analysis and White House review. Some progressives have denounced cost-benefit analysis as a weapon used by “small government ideologues and corporate interests” to stymie regulatory safeguards. An analysis from the Center for American Progress found that cost-benefit analysis is effectively used as “an excuse for slowing regulation under progressive administrations—an excuse that is quickly discarded when it conflicts with their deregulatory goals.” The order Gray authored has been “affirmed in one way or another by every president since.”
Gray has also worked as a staunch advocate for deregulation for climate and tobacco industry-funded groups such as the Alliance for Reasonable Regulation.
During the last year of the George W. Bush administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appointed Gray as Special Envoy for European Union Affairs and Eurasian Energy at the Mission of the United States to the European Union.
Gray’s concern for proper “risk-versus-benefit” analysis stems from his involvement with the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis and the larger risk analysis field, which “is not broadly accepted as a science in itself.” As counsel in the George H.W. Bush administration, Gray worked on a presidential executive order aimed at “bringing more scientific rigor and political accountability to the process of health, safety, and environmental regulations.” Gray enlisted Harvard academic John D. Graham of the Harvard Group on Risk Management Reform to provide advice and counsel on the presidential order. While the political will for the order briefly subsided amidst the 1992 presidential campaign, momentum for deregulation remained and in 1994, Gray secured a grant from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation to fund the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis.
Gray also had an outsized influence in judicial nominations during both Bush administrations. During the George W. Bush administration, then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) approached Gray to organize a team to lead upcoming judicial nomination fights. Gray subsequently assembled “the four horsemen,” which included himself, attorney Jay Sekulow, former-Reagan attorney general Ed Meese, and then-Executive Vice President of the Federalist Society Leonard Leo. In 2002, Gray founded the Committee for Justice (CFJ), ostensibly to help push George W. Bush’s judicial nominees. CFJ is still active today and regularly files amicus briefs supporting conservative causes in Supreme Court cases, such as Sackett v. EPA, which threatens to significantly limit the EPA’s regulatory powers over water pollution. That case is scheduled for argument on October 3, 2022.
Neil Corkery was responsible for the books and records at America Engaged as recently as 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”
In 2017, America Engaged made a grant totaling $950,000 to the NRA Institute of Legislative Affairs. That same year, the NRA announced a $1 million ad campaign in support of Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination.
In 2017, America Engaged gave $50,000 to Americans for Limited Government, a conservative nonprofit chaired by New York real estate investor and libertarian donor Howard Rich. America Engaged also gave $700,000 to the Koch-group Freedom Partners, which “strongly supported Trump’s nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
In 2018, America Engaged gave $3 million to Freedom Partners and gave the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List $25,000.
In 2019, America Engaged only made one grant for $500,000 to the Seminar Network Chamber of Commerce, a Koch-founded group now known as Stand Together.
|Creative Response Concepts||$600,251||2019|
|Creative Response Concepts||$760,303||2018|
|Creative Response Concepts||$150,000||2017|
America Engaged’s legal services contractor was Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky, 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, and the Freedom and Opportunity Fund, among others. Holtzman Vogel also represented the BH Fund. According to McClatchy, Holtzman Vogel “specializ[es] in creative legal maneuvers that allow donors to fund conservative causes to remain anonymous.”
In 2022, it was revealed that Marble Freedom Trust, a newly identified organization helmed by Leonard Leo, received a $1.6 billion dollar donation from Chicago manufacturing magnate Barre Seid. In the tax filing that revealed the donation, America Engaged, BH Fund, and the Rule of Law Trust were identified as “related entities” to Marble Freedom Trust.