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 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 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 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.
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 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.”
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.”
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
Leif Noren, Former Chairman (ret. 2020)
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.
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 $5.5 million since 2016. CRC’s Jonathan Bunch is also the senior vice president of the Federalist Society.
|85 Fund (FKA Judicial Education Project)||$ 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|
|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|
One of the main goals of CRC Advisors since its inception has been the rebranding of two existing nonprofits.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.