America Engaged

America Engaged was a nonprofit organization helmed by Leonard Leo that describes 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.

About America Engaged

Part of a Network of Conservative Judicial Advocacy Organizations Run by Leonard Leo and His Associates

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 KavanaughLeonard 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.

On November 7, 2022, Jonathan Bunch voluntarily filed articles of termination for America Engaged and the BH Fund with the Virginia State Corporation Commission.

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.

Leonard Leo, President

Leonard 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. 

  • One of these nonprofits is the Federalist Society, which cultivates conservative judicial nominees in Leo’s fight to take over the courts.
  • Leo operates a series of nonprofits that can move money without public scrutiny, such as the 85 Fund, the BH Fund, and the Freedom and Opportunity Fund.

Leo has personal and professional ties to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who is an original faculty member of the Federalist Society and a frequent speaker at the organization’s events. 

  • Thomas has hired Leo’s PR firm CRC Advisors to promote his memoir and a documentary about Thomas.

Jonathan Bunch, Secretary

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 sought to replace Missouri’s selection method for state appeals courts judges — called the Missouri Plan — where the governor appointed a nominee from a list curated by special judicial nominating committees. JCN proposed an inherently partisan system that would give the governor power to nominate any individual to the commission, subject to Senate confirmation. The group also spearheaded a ballot measure to allow the governor to appoint a majority of the commission’s members.
  • The Missouri Bar Association and the judiciary overwhelmingly supported keeping the state’s existing judicial selection system, contending that “the process diminishes the politics behind selections.”
  • Critics of Bunch’s group called their proposal “a GOP power grab,” to give the governor more power as “the state is getting redder and redder.” The president of the Missouri Bar said Better Courts’ proposal would “make partisan politics the heart and soul” of selecting judges.

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.” 

  • Iowa’s existing system — where half of the commissioners were selected by the governor and half were elected by licensed lawyers — was meant to “emphasize legal experience while keeping politics at arm’s length.”

Todd Graves, Director

Todd Graves is the brother of U.S. Representative Sam Graves, a former Missouri Assistant Attorney General and former U.S. District Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. 

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:

  • Graves was one of several U.S. attorneys fired by George W. Bush on a single day in December 2006

Involvement In Scott Walker John Doe Investigations

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.”  

  • The first, which began in the spring of 2010, “focused on aides to Walker when he was Milwaukee County executive” and involved illegal political contributions. This investigation resulted in six being charged and convicted of various crimes, including “theft and misconduct in office.” Walker was not charged.

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.”

  • In 2011, groups affiliated with the 85 Fund, the Judicial Crisis Network, and Wellspring Committee funneled money to Wisconsin Club For Growth. Wisconsin Club For Growth was key to electing conservative Justice Patience Roggensack to a second ten-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2013, spending $400,000 to boost her campaign.
  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court was a key ally to Republican Governor Scott Walker’s agenda, upholding key agenda items on collective bargaining and voter ID.

C. Boyden Gray, Director

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.

  • C. Boyden Gray formerly worked in the White House for 12 years, first as counsel to the vice president during the Reagan administration and then as counsel to President George H.W. Bush. Gray later served as U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. under the George W. Bush administration.

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

  • Gray also chaired the Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice of the American Bar Association.

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

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

Right-Wing Religious Activism

  • Ann Corkery served as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly and the UN Commission on Women under President George W. Bush. She fought to institute a ban on human cloning at the UN.
  • Ann Corkery was also a board member at The Becket Fund and The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

Media Ties

  • Neil and Ann Corkery were involved in efforts to promote conservative art. Ann worked with Friends of Abe, a group of Hollywood conservatives who aim to push back on the industry’s perceived liberal bias, and was an associate producer on a movie mocking Michael Moore. Neil is the former CEO of Wedgewood Circle, a group that aims to fund “redemptive cultural content.”

Connections to the Leonard Leo Network

  • The Corkerys helped launch Leonard Leo’s Judicial Crisis Network. Leonard Leo and Neil Corkery conceived the Judicial Crisis Network at a dinner party attended by conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Leo and Corkery wanted to create an organization to help confirm conservative nominees in anticipation of Supreme Court vacancies that George W. Bush ultimately filled with Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
  • Leonard Leo’s Marble Freedom Trust identifies Neil Corkery as in charge of the organization’s books, according to their 2020 990

America Engaged Helped Fund an Advertising Blitz in Support of Gorsuch’s Nomination to the Supreme Court

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, Judicial Crisis Network announced that it would spend $10 million supporting Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. JCN hired CRC Advisors as a contractor for media consulting work in 2017. Their online videos, television ads, pundit commentary, opinion essays, and other material supporting Gorsuch were viewed 1.2 billion times.

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

America Engaged Paid CRC Advisors Over $1.5 Million Between 2017 And 2019

CRC Advisors, a public relations firm founded in 2020 by Leonard Leo and his longtime associate, Greg Mueller, evolved out of Mueller’s existing conservative communications firm CRC Strategies, which formerly assumed the names CRC Public Relations and Creative Response Concepts. Virtually all of Leo’s nonprofit groups, including America Engaged, have paid CRC for public relations work over the years.

America Engaged Contracting Payments To Creative Response Concepts

Organization Amount Year
Creative Response Concepts $600,251 2019
Creative Response Concepts $760,303 2018
Creative Response Concepts $150,000 2017
TOTAL $1,510,554

Holtzman Vogel 

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.”

  • Holtzman Vogel employs many longtime Republican operatives. Founder, partner, and namesake of the firm Jill Holtzman Vogel is a Republican state Senator in Virginia currently serving her fourth term. Vogel has been described as a “dark-money superlawyer” by the Washington Post

Marble Freedom Trust, BH Fund, Freedom And Opportunity Fund, And The Rule Of Law Trust

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. 

In the 2017 and 2018 tax filings for America Engaged, the organization listed the Freedom and Opportunity Fund as a related entity.

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