CRC Advisors

CRC Advisors is a consulting and public relations firm led by Leonard Leo with influence across the conservative spectrum.

About CRC Advisors

CRC Advisors is a consulting and public relations firm led by Leonard Leo with influence across the conservative spectrum. Originally called CRC Public Relations and founded in 1989, the firm first rose to mainstream prominence for its role in a smear campaign against John Kerry during the 2004 presidential election. The organization has played a key role in supporting Leo’s Supreme Court fights since the nomination of Samuel Alito.

  • Leonard Leo and his longtime associate, Greg Mueller, launched CRC Advisors in 2020. Leo stepped down as executive vice president of the Federalist Society (though he retained the title co-chairman) to form CRC Advisors.
  • Since at least 2012, CRC has received over $55 million from groups connected to Leonard Leo and has deep ties to the other nonprofits within Leo’s network. 
  • CRC Advisors evolved out of Mueller’s existing communications firm CRC Strategies, which formerly assumed names such as CRC Public Relations, and Creative Response Concepts. Mueller remains CEO of CRC Advisors, while Leo has been the chairman since joining in 2020.
  • CRC Strategies has represented all manner of mainstream and fringe conservative organizations and causes, including the Republican National Committee, anti-evolution think tank the Discovery Institute, the Christian Coalition, and white supremacist ally Michelle Malkin, to name a few. CRC advisors also represented Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog, after MRC’s founder’s son was charged for his involvement in the Capitol Riot.
  • CRC Advisors is staffed by several former Federalist Society leaders and has been paid over $55 million by groups connected to Leonard Leo since 2012. In 2017, CRC acquired Kellyanne Conway’s polling firm, “The Polling Company.” Conway previously described CRC as “the most consequential people you’ve never heard of.”

Leonard Leo, Chairman

 

Leonard Leo is the chair of CRC Advisors. He has been called “arguably the most powerful figure in the federal justice system” with his “network of interlocking nonprofits” that supports conservative judges. A right-wing ideologue, Leo is arguably the central force in the right’s effort to capture the American court system and wield it as a political weapon.

 

Greg Mueller, CEO

 

Greg Mueller is the CEO of CRC Advisors and the founder of CRC Advisor’s predecessor, CRC Strategies. Mueller is an alumnus of Pat Buchanan’s 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns. He also worked and lobbied for the lobbying firm Keene, Shirley & Associates. It also appears that Mueller was a spokesman for the National Conservative Foundation. The New York Times described Mueller as having “the cornball charm of a carnival huckster.

Mueller rose to prominence within Republican circles for his creative work on Buchanan’s campaigns with a small budget, impressing party elites. This led to CRC being tapped by the Republican National Committee to lead a grassroots communications campaign to promote the Contract With America, the party’s platform for the 1994 midterms. The 1994 midterms were a success for Republicans and established CRC as an important player in conservative campaign communications. Scholars have argued the 1994 midterms, and the Contract with America fundamentally polarized the American electorate. Mueller and Leo have known each other since 2004 and began discussing the creation of a new organization as early as 2019. Leo and Mueller also sit on the board of Students for Life, an anti-abortion student group.

 

Jonathan Bunch, President

 

Jonathan Bunch is currently the president of CRC Advisors, a public relations consulting firm Leonard Leo founded in 2020. Bunch is a former senior vice president at the Federalist Society who has been described as Leo’s “right-hand man.” 


He is also listed as the “successor trustee” for the Marble Freedom Trust, another nonprofit headed by Leo. Marble Freedom Trust received a monumental $1.6 billion contribution in 2021 from conservative mega-donor Barre Seid. Bunch has been involved in several Leo-linked entities including America Engaged, BH Fund, and the Freedom and Opportunity Fund that have sent combined millions to CRC advisors.

  • The Rule of Law Trust, another Leo-linked group, paid Bunch $1.5 million in consulting fees in 2018 —- RLT’s largest single payment that year.

 

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 court 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 members of the commission.
  • 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 in Missouri reflects the Leo network’s typical playbook at the state level. In Iowa, the 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.” 

 

Neil Corkery, Chief Financial Officer and Secretary

 

According to filings in the states of Georgia and California, Leo associate Neil Corkery is an officer of CRC Advisors. Specifically, the filing in California states that Corkery is CRC’s chief financial officer and secretary. 

Neil 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

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

 

Matt Whitlock, Senior Vice President

 

Longtime Republican operative Matt Whitlock has served as a senior vice president at CRC Advisors since May 2022. Before that, he was a vice president at CRC for one year.

Before joining CRC, Whitlock was a senior advisor to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He also worked in the office of the late Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) for four years, including the period when Hatch was the Senate President Pro Tempore and chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Whitlock’s various roles with Hatch’s office included deputy chief of staff, communications director, and press secretary. Whitlock started his career as a staff and press assistant to Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). He has also worked as an account researcher at Brunswick Group LLP.

Whitlock regularly tweets fearmongering claims warning that the ESG investment strategy — short for environmental, social, and governance goals — is “destroying the economy.” 

  • The ESG model, which has existed for decades, promotes socially responsible investing by assessing the risks posed by societal issues such as climate change and racism. ESG essentially provides a “set of standards for public companies’ actions that investors use to guide where they put their money.” The model accounts for criteria such as companies’ energy use and sustainability initiatives, board diversity, and employee wage gaps. According to Whitlock, these issues are “woke causes” that companies are being “forced” to address.
  • Whitlock and other conservatives’ claims that ESG will lead to economic collapse are unfounded. Studies by Morgan Stanley and Vanguard show that “investments based on ESG have either outperformed or performed as well as, non-ESG investments.”
  • A May 2022 Bloomberg article notes the similarities between concerns around ESG and the right-wing hysteria over critical race theory, which became a “catchall” for curriculum about racism and ultimately helped elect right-wing school board officials: “ESG opponents see an opportunity to aim voters’ fears of inflation at the finance industry’s efforts to combat global warming and other social ills.” In recent months, conservatives have used inflammatory catchalls such as “corporate cancel culture” to dismiss ESG as “liberal priorities.”

 

Maria Plakoudas Marshall, Senior Vice President

 

Maria Plakoudas Marshall has served as a senior vice president at CRC Advisors since January 2020. Before joining CRC Advisors, Marshall worked for eight years as the ​director of operations at the Federalist Society. Her biography boasts that she “has worked with clients and external campaigns on U.S. judicial confirmation battles that have reshaped the federal judiciary.”

Marshall has served as a board member of the Orthodox Christian Network since 2018. OCN regularly publishes blog posts and podcast episodes promoting hate and intolerance toward the LGBTQ community. 

 

Laura Schlapp, Vice President

 

Laura Schlapp is a longtime Republican operative and has served as a vice president at CRC Advisors since July 2021. 

Schlapp worked under the Trump administration as the regional media director for Vice President Mike Pence and as a special assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. She was also a special assistant in the U.S. Air Force.

Before joining CRC Advisors, Schlapp was the communications director and military legislative assistant to Rep. Tracey Mann (R-KS). She also held various roles in the office of Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) from 2014 to 2018 and worked on Mike Pompeo’s congressional campaign in 2013.

Laura Schlapp is the niece of Mercedes Schlapp, Trump’s former White House director of strategic communications and senior campaign advisor, and Matt Schlapp, the chair of the American Conservative Union. 

 

Austin Mitchell, Vice President

 

Austin Mitchell has worked at CRC Advisors since January 2021. Mitchel served under the Trump administration for all four years: first as a research assistant to former Vice President Mike Pence and then as a special assistant to Trump. Before that, Mitchell was a researcher at the Republican National Committee.

 

Mike Thompson, Jr., Senior Vice President

 

Mike Thompson is a senior vice president at CRC Advisors. He is also the secretary and treasurer of CNP Action, the fundraising arm of the highly secretive networking group, the Council for National Policy. CNP hosts private events three times a year, with some of the most prominent conservative donors and activists, right-wing religious extremists, and Republican lawmakers in attendance. 

  • In 2004, The New York Times called CNP “a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country.” The Southern Poverty Law Center described the group as “a body that mixes large numbers of ostensibly mainstream conservatives with far-right and extremist ideologues, mostly from the far fringes of the religious right.”
  • CNP’s membership lists include leaders of influential right-wing groups, including the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society, and the American Legislative Exchange Council. According to Documented, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has spoken at CNP events, and his wife Ginni Thomas is a board member of CNP Action as well as a frequent speaker. Additionally, former Vice President Mike Pence was listed as a member on a January 2022 roster.
  • Many current and former CNP members have ties to SPLC-designated hate groups, particularly anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim groups. CNP was “instrumental” in persuading Trump to initiate his Muslim travel ban, and the group has played an active role in promoting voter suppression policies at the state level.
  • In May 2020, CNP Action organized a call between Republica operatives and a senior staffer for Trump’s re-election campaign to recruit “extremely pro-Trump” doctors to tell the public “it’s time to reopen [the economy],” contradictory to the Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

 

Adam Kennedy, Vice President

 

Former Trump staffer Adam Kennedy has served as a vice president at CRC Advisors since May 2020. Kennedy held various roles in Trump’s office, including director of research and special assistant to the president. Before that, he was a researcher at the Republican National Committee for three years. From 2012 to 2013, Kennedy performed opposition research for the Center for American Freedom, which runs the conservative outlet the Washington Free Beacon. The Beacon’s editor-in-chief described the publication as “combat journalism” to the “insipid folderol of Democratic officials and the liberal gasbags.”

 

Kevin Daley, Vice President

 

Former Washington Free Beacon staff writer Kevin Daley has served as a vice president at CRC Advisors since August 2022. 

While working at the Beacon, Daley wrote numerous pieces attacking the trans community and LGBTQ+ rights. In response to a Department of Justice memo released in March 2022, Daley wrote an article demonizing the DOJ’s reinforcement of federal nondiscrimination laws, particularly as they apply to transgender youth. 

  • Daley’s anti-trans bias is evident throughout the piece, as he uses inflammatory language and fear-mongering to describe state laws that “keep biological men from competing in women’s sports” and “protect children” from interventions that “switch their biological sex.” He also describes a previous Department of Justice memo that he interpreted as a foreshadowing of Biden’s “regulatory regime imposing gender ideology through federal policy.”

In March 2022, Daley interviewed Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, during which she acknowledged for the first time that she attended the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally preceding Trump supporters’ violent attack on the Capitol.

  • Daley’s article begins by downplaying Ginni Thomas’ involvement in the rally, stating, “she [Ginni Thomas] did not help organize the White House rally that preceded the riot at the Capitol. She did attend the rally, but got cold and left early.” Ginni Thomas insisted throughout the interview that the mainstream media has exaggerated her involvement in the events on Jan. 6th and that her husband “doesn’t discuss his work with me, and I don’t involve him in my work.”
  • Ten days after Daley’s interview with Ginni Thomas was released,  The Washington Post published text messages between Ginni Thomas and former Trump lawyer John Eastman showing that she “repeatedly pressed White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to pursue unrelenting efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in a series of urgent text exchanges in the critical weeks after the vote.”
  • Watchdog and ethics groups demanded that Justice Thomas immediately recuse himself from court cases related to the House Jan. 6th Committee or efforts to overturn the election, as “Ginni’s direct participation in this odious anti-democracy work, coupled with the new reporting that seems to indicate she may have spoken to Justice Thomas about it, leads to the conclusion that the justice’s continued participation in cases related to these efforts would only further tarnish the court’s already fading public reputation.”
  • A week after The Washington Post released the text messages, the Free Beacon’s editorial board called the reporting a “brouhaha” that was “much ado about nothing.”

 

Other Past or Present Executive Staff of CRC Advisors

Ryan Moy, Vice President

Elizabeth Ray, Vice President of Accounts

Brian Doherty, Vice President, Accounts 

Maria Hatzikonstantinou, Senior Vice President 

Jenni Cantwell, Vice President, Operations & Human Resources

Adam Bromberg, Senior Vice President

Keith Appell, Republican Strategist and Senior Vice President

Peter Robbio, Senior Vice President

Michael Russell, Vice President of Communication & PR

Kevin Fairbrother, Director Of Rapid Response

Andrew Mueller, Senior Account Executive

Leif Noren, Former Chairman (ret. 2020)

 

CRC Advisors Has Received Over $55 Million From Groups Connected To Leonard Leo Since 2012 And Has Deep Ties To The Other Nonprofits Within The Leo Network

 

CRC Advisors President Jonathan Bunch is listed on the tax forms of multiple Leo-linked nonprofits, including America Engaged, BH Fund, and the Freedom and Opportunity Fund. These three nonprofits have the ability to shroud the financial dealings of the overall Leo-linked network of organizations. 

  • For example, in 2017 alone the BH Fund sent the Freedom and Opportunity Fund $400,000, America Engaged $2.3 million and paid CRC Advisor’s predecessor organization $500,000 for consulting services.
  • The following year, America Engaged paid the same CRC Advisors predecessor organization over $750,000 for consulting services.

 

Another closely linked group is the Rule of Law Trust, a shell organization that acts as a vehicle to pay Leo’s associates for contracted services.

 

From 2015-2016, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) paid CRC over $260,000 for public relations work. 

 

The Federalist Society is also a longtime supporter of CRC advisors, having paid the firm over $5.5 million since 2016. CRC’s Jonathan Bunch is also the senior vice president of the Federalist Society. 

Leo-Affiliated Groups Have Paid CRC Advisors And Predecessors At Least $55.6 Million Since 2012-Including Over $47 Million Just Since 2016

Group Amount Year
85 Fund (FKA Judicial Education Project) $ 12,117,335.00 2020
85 Fund (FKA Judicial Education Project) $ 5,881,250.00 2019
Judicial Crisis Network $7,679,331.00 2020
Judicial Crisis Network $ 4,257,511.00 2019
Judicial Crisis Network $ 3,485,151.00 2018
Judicial Crisis Network $ 3,348,638.00 2017
Judicial Crisis Network $ 3,049,615.00 2016
Federalist Society $1,645,780.00 2018
Federalist Society $1,636,482.00 2019
Federalist Society $1,576,767.00 2020
Federalist Society $1,539,499.00 2017
Judicial Crisis Network $ 1,438,439.00 2015
85 Fund (FKA Judicial Education Project) $ 1,187,500.00 2016
85 Fund (FKA Judicial Education Project) $ 720,778 2017
85 Fund (FKA Judicial Education Project) $ 978,000.00 2018
America Engaged $ 760,303.00 2018
85 Fund (FKA Judicial Education Project) $ 734,000.00 2015
America Engaged $ 600,251.00 2019
Wellspring Committee $ 600,000.00 2016
Freedom And Opportunity Fund $ 450,000.00 2016
Freedom And Opportunity Fund $ 400,000.00 2017
BH Fund $ 400,000.00 2017
Judicial Crisis Network $ 382,814.00 2014
Wellspring Committee $ 165,000.00 2018
85 Fund (FKA Judicial Education Project) $ 165,000.00 2012
America Engaged $ 150,000.00 2017
TOTAL $55,349,4446.00

CRC Advisors Rebranded And Manages Leo’s 85 Fund And Concord Fund (AKA Judicial Crisis Network)

 

One of the main goals of CRC Advisors since its inception has been the rebranding of two existing nonprofits

  • The two nonprofits are now known as the 85 Fund (formerly the Judicial Education Project) and the Concord Fund (formerly the Judicial Crisis Network), though the latter is more commonly known as simply the Judicial Crisis Network, or JCN.
  • The nonprofits work in tandem to obscure the flow of money circling within the Leo-ecosystem while financing conservative projects across the country.

 

CRC Has Meddled In Supreme Court Nomination Fights And Opposed Democratic Presidential Candidates 

  • The first time CRC played a key role in a Leo-backed Supreme Court fight was in support of Samuel Alito’s nomination in 2004. CRC ran a public relations campaign to distract from claims that Alito was a part of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a group that opposed coeducation at the university.
  • In 2005, CRC ran public relations for the Federalist Society and Judicial Crisis Network as the groups advocated for the confirmation of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
  • In 2009, CRC led the charge against Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
  • In 2018, CRC (then CRC Public Relations) helped conservative lawyer Ed Whelan spew false accusations against Christine Blasey Ford during the Kavanaugh hearings. Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in 1982 and raised the allegations publicly following Kavanaugh’s nomination. Whelan’s theory, which included “architectural drawings,” said that Christine Blasey Ford “confused Kavanaugh for a different classmate.”
  • CRC organized a news conference just hours after Whelan posted his accusations, featuring numerous women who dismissed Blasey Ford’s allegations.
     
  • Politico reported that Whelan worked directly with CRC’s Greg Mueller to devise a communications strategy that would highlight his false theory.
  • Whelan eventually retracted his statement, apologized, and took a leave of absence from his position as president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
  • From 2016-2017, CRC (then Creative Response Concepts) received more than $10 million in contracting fees from nine different groups to coordinate a “months-long media campaign in support of” Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch, who was nominated in 2017.

 

CRC Previously Registered As A Foreign Agent For Ukrainian Politician Viktor Yanukovych, Who Went On To Become President And Was Later Convicted Of Treason 

 

According to a Department of Justice Foreign Agent Registration Act document, Creative Response Concepts (CRC) registered as a foreign agent in 2005 and listed Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych as its foreign principal. Yanukovych, who went on to serve as president of Ukraine from 2010-2014, was known for his pro-Russia stances was later found guilty of treason and sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2019 for allowing Russia to send troops into Ukraine in an attempt to quash a pro-western revolution.

 

CRC Advisors Worked To Undermine Leading Democrats

  • CRC first came to prominence in 2004 for its role in representing the anti-John Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. SVBT charged that Kerry, who has a distinguished military service record that featured numerous awards for his actions in combat, had greatly distorted his own service record in order to disgrace the U.S. military and the soldiers he served with. The ads led some soldiers who served with Kerry to publicly push back on SVBT, claiming they were distorting the facts. Late Republican Senator and Vietnam POW John McCain also condemned the ads. While the group’s anti-Kerry campaign was characterized as a smear campaign by the mainstream press, the claims took hold on right-wing media and had a tangible impact on the 2004 presidential race.
  • During the 2008 financial crisis, CRC wrote a letter on behalf of the employees of the bank IndyMac after it went under, demanding the California attorney general investigate Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) for misdemeanor defamation. The letter alleged that Schumer was at fault for the bank’s collapse by raising concerns about the lack of regulation on its financially risky behaviors.

 

CRC Advisors Worked To Advance Right-Wing Causes, Groups, And Figures 

Judicial Crisis Network

 

Judicial Crisis Network is the lynchpin of Leonard Leo’s efforts to put conservative judges on the bench. The group has led successful campaigns to nominate and confirm five Supreme Court justices. JCN is the public face of Leonard Leo’s “network of interlocking nonprofits” that aggressively supports conservative judges. Along with its dark money sister organization, the 85 Fund (FKA the Judicial Education Project), JCN’s shadow empire has allowed Leo to meet and “cultivate[] almost every important Republican lawyer in more than a generation.”

Since 2014, JCN has paid Creative Response Concepts over $23 million. CRC advisors ran PR campaigns for Supreme Court Justices that were also supported by JCN including Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh. CRC also ran a PR campaign opposing the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, which JCN also campaigned against

 

The 85 Fund

 

The 85 Fund (formerly known as the Judicial Education Project) is a 501(c)(3) organization that operates within a network of conservative nonprofits aiming to influence the federal judiciary and the American political system more broadly. The 85 Fund was founded in 2011 by prominent Republican operatives and is closely tied to its sister organization the Judicial Crisis Network and Trump judicial advisor and conservative legal activist, Leonard Leo.

  • In 2020, the group legally changed its name to The 85 Fund as part of a rebrand to Leo’s network, coming alongside the formation of CRC Advisors and the rebranding of Judicial Crisis Network as the Concord Fund. Almost immediately, the 85 Fund raised $20 million dollars, much of it from the powerful conservative “dark money” group, Donors Trust. In recent years, the 85 Fund has sent money to other conservative and right-wing groups, including groups that were tied to efforts to overturn the 2020 election. 

 

The Federalist Society

 

The Federalist Society is the most powerful and far-reaching legal group for libertarian and conservative lawyers and judges. Leonard Leo, the organization’s longtime vice president and current vice chair, has used his position in the Federalist Society to reshape federal and state courts. Most notably, the Federalist Society has been dubbed “the conservative pipeline to the Supreme Court,” and is connected to the last five Supreme Court nominees appointed by Republican presidents. Its membership includes numerous individuals who were instrumental in the events of January 6, 2021.

The Federalist Society is also a longtime supporter of CRC Advisors, having paid the firm over $9 million since 2014. CRC’s Jonathan Bunch is also the senior vice president of the Federalist Society. 

 

Clarence And Virginia “Ginni” Thomas

 

In 2021, Clarence Thomas hired CRC Advisors for public relations work related to the re-release of Thomas’ memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir,” and a documentary about Thomas. 

 

Outside of CRC’s direct work with Thomas, CRC’s Leonard Leo has personal and professional ties to the Supreme Court Justice.

 

Liberty Central

 

In 2010 Virginia Thomas launched a well-funded tea party group, Liberty Central, which hired CRC for public relations work and featured Leonard Leo on its board. Cleta Mitchell filed Liberty Central’s registration just eight days after the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, and longtime Leonard Leo ally, Neil Corkery, served as the group’s accountant when it formed.

  • To kickstart the organization, Virginia Thomas “accepted two donations of $500,000 and $50,000,” the former coming from Republican donor Harlan Crow.
  • Within a year, Virginia Thomas stepped down from her leadership role with Liberty Central as the organization planned to merge with a conservative non-profit group called the Patrick Henry Center. Spokespeople from CRC Advisors (then CRC Public Relations) went on the record to confirm that CRC did public relations work for Liberty Central.

 

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