Leonard Leo is an American lawyer and conservative activist who has been called “arguably the most powerful figure in the federal justice system.”
Leonard Anthony Leo was born to a Catholic family on Long Island in November 1965. His father, a pastry chef and owner of a bakery, died when Leo was a preschooler. His mother remarried when Leo was five years old, at which point the family uprooted to suburban New Jersey, where Leo spent most of his childhood.
Leo has credited his grandfather, an immigrant from Italy, with shaping his views on the United States and politics. At age 14, his grandfather emigrated to the U.S. and obtained a job as a tailor for Brooks Brothers. Throughout his career, Leo’s grandfather rose through the company’s ranks, achieving the role of vice president at the end of his professional life.
Through his grandfather’s experiences, Leo “understood America as being a land of opportunity, understood the value of capitalism, the value of hard work, personal responsibility.” His grandparents also impressed on him their Catholic faith, which has continued to shape Leo’s own politics. In 2017, Leo told Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker, “my grandparents were deeply religious people, they were daily Mass attendees. So I got all of that.”
Leo pursued his undergraduate studies at Cornell University in the mid-1980s. In 1985, he clerked on the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution. He received his bachelor’s degree in government in 1987 and immediately enrolled in Cornell Law School.
While pursuing his graduate studies, Leo helped found the Cornell chapter of the Federalist Society, an organization created in 1980 by three law students at Yale University and the University of Chicago in response to what they perceived as “pervasive liberalism of America’s law schools.” Leo met several future heavyweights in the conservative movement and Republican administrations through the Federalist Society, including Brett Kavanaugh.
In 1989, Leo graduated from Cornell Law with a Juris Doctor degree. He and his then-fiancée, Sally, moved to Washington D.C., where Leo accepted an offer to clerk with a U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge. He then completed a second clerkship on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Although the couple intended to stay in D.C. for only a short period, they eventually laid down roots in the D.C. metro area, where they continue to reside today.
In 1991, upon completing his judicial clerkships, Leo became one of the Federalist Society’s first paid employees, heading up the organization’s lawyers division. He initially delayed the start of his employment with the society to support Clarence Thomas through his confirmation to the Supreme Court.
In his early years at the organization, Leo “focused on making the society noticed by opinion leaders.” One of Leo’s projects was “ABA Watch,” a semiannual newsletter with critical coverage of the American Bar Association, the United States’ largest association of lawyers. Leo served as the publication’s executive editor throughout the late 1990s. In the pages of ABA Watch, he and his colleagues documented the association’s perceived liberal bias on issues, including abortion, the death penalty, and gun control.
By President George W. Bush’s first term in office, the Federalist Society had elevated Leo to the position of vice president. This was a prestigious appointment, given the organization’s considerable growth over the course of the previous decade. In 1991, the society’s membership numbered around 5,000. By 2001, the organization boasted roughly 25,000 members, including high-ranking officials in the Bush administration.
During the Bush years, Leo helped guide the president’s judicial appointments, including two to the Supreme Court. His role in directing nominations to the federal judiciary became even more pronounced a decade later under President Trump. In 2016, Trump met with Leo to discuss the Supreme Court. After their meeting, Leo drew up a list of potential Supreme Court nominees for then-candidate Trump. All three of President Trump’s eventual nominees were drawn from this list and its subsequent iterations.
In January 2020, Leo announced that he would step down as executive vice president of the Federalist Society to launch CRC Advisors, a conservative public relations firm. Leo remains Federalist Society co-chairman, a title he has held since 2019.
Leo joined the Catholic Working Group, an informal group of conservatives hoping to bolster GOP support among Catholics, in the lead-up to the 2004 presidential election. Although the working group was independent of the Republican Party, the Republican National Convention eventually invited Leo to co-chair the party’s Catholic outreach in the spring of 2004. From there, Leo joined the Bush re-election campaign as their lead Catholic strategist.
Following Bush’s re-election, commentators noted the inroads the president had made with Catholics since 2000. That year, Catholics had been split between Bush and Al Gore. In 2004, Bush fared better among the voting bloc, claiming 52 percent of Catholic voters nationwide. At the time, Leo told The New York Times that Bush’s strong showing among Catholics, particularly in Ohio and Florida, had handed him the election.
In 2007, President Bush appointed Leo to the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom, an independent, bipartisan federal agency monitoring the universal right to freedom of religion and belief abroad. As a USCIRF commissioner, Leo traveled to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Nigeria, Sudan, and Vietnam to evaluate violations of religious freedom in those countries.
Leo served as a commissioner of the USCIRF for two years before being elected chairman of the commission in June 2009. He was reelected chair the following year on the recommendation of Senator Mitch McConnell.
Under Leo’s leadership, the Commission focused on discrimination and violence against religious minorities, in particular Christians, primarily residing in Asia and Africa. Leo and the commission were also the subjects of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed by a former policy analyst, Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, who claimed that her contract was canceled because of her Muslim faith. Ghori-Ahmad’s allegations against the commission were apparently bolstered by one commissioner’s outspoken opposition to the construction of Park51, an Islamic community center and mosque envisioned to be built near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. At the time, Leo was also serving as a director of Liberty Central, a rightwing tea party group that had organized a petition against the planned construction.
The EEOC dismissed the complaint in 2010. Two years later, Ghori-Ahmad filed a civil action against the commission in federal court. These proceedings ended in 2014 in a settlement, which Mother Jones reported as being “very favorable” to Ghori-Ahmad.
The fallout from the discrimination complaint significantly impacted the operations of USCIRF. Upon Ghori-Ahmad’s termination, at least one staffer quit in protest. The scandal also drew the attention of Congress, which was set to reauthorize the commission in 2011. Although Congress eventually extended the commission’s mandate, Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) demanded changes be made to the agency. These included the institution of term limits and additional antidiscrimination protections. Once passed, the Durbin amendment concerning term limits was retroactively applied, and several commissioners, including Leo, were effectively fired.
In addition to his appointment to USCIRF, Leo has also served on delegations to the UN Commission on Human Rights, UNESCO, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the World Health Organization.
Leo has played a catalytic role in the nominations of all six conservative justices currently serving on the Supreme Court. Beginning with Clarence Thomas’s appointment in 1991, Leo became an increasingly central figure in the confirmation process, culminating with the Trump presidency when Leo “personally curated” a list of acceptable Supreme Court nominees for President Trump. When Trump finally made his three nominations to the high court, outside groups linked to Leonard Leo, through his network of nonprofits coordinated campaigns endorsing Trump’s picks. Judicial Crisis Network, the primary entity among organizations associated with Leo, spent a total of $37 million on media campaigns supporting the nominations of Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Coney Barrett between 2016 and 2020. That is an average of $1 million per week throughout the confirmations of the three Justices. In this way, Leo not only had a hand in selecting the nominees but also in ensuring that the Senate confirmed them.
Leo met Clarence Thomas in September 1990, while Leo clerked in D.C. on the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Shortly after their meeting, President George H.W. Bush nominated Thomas to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Justice. Leo aided Thomas throughout the contentious confirmation process, in which one of Thomas’s former subordinates at the Department of Education, Anita Hill, accused him of sexual harassment. According to The Wall Street Journal, Leo “spent hours in a windowless file room searching for evidence to defend” Thomas.
Since then, Leo and Thomas have maintained a close friendship. Thomas has visited Leo at his New England home and is a godfather to one of Leo’s children. In 2017, Leo told The New Yorker that Justice Thomas keeps a drawing by Leo’s late daughter Margaret on his desk.
In addition to their personal relationship, Leo has had several professional dealings with Justice Thomas and his wife, Virginia. Leo was a founding director of Virginia “Ginni” Thomas’s tea party group Liberty Central, a position he held from 2009 to the organization’s dissolution in 2012. The Thomases’ have also hired CRC Advisors, the conservative public relations firm that Leo chairs, to promote the 2021 audiobook release of Justice Thomas’s memoir.
In 2017, Ginni Thomas presented Leo with an inaugural Impact Award, an annual distinction “honoring leaders defending liberty” that Thomas created with the support of the conservative Christian organization United in Purpose. In her introductory remarks, Thomas credited Leo as “the reason there is a conservative legal movement across the country.”
On the expectation that President George W. Bush would make at least one appointment to the Supreme Court during his second term, Leonard Leo worked with Federalist Society members, including Reagan’s attorney-general Edwin Meese III and former White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray, to identify acceptable nominees among a raft of conservative judges. According to The International Herald Tribune, beginning in February 2005, the group studied the records of 18 potential nominees and trained dozens of lawyers on how to advocate for the president’s eventual choice in the press.
When Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her intention to retire in the summer of 2005, Leo was among a small handful of conservatives that the George W. Bush administration consulted to identify her replacement. The group—dubbed “The Four Horsemen”—was composed of Leo, C. Boyden Gray, Edwin Meese III, and evangelical lawyer Jay Sekulow. At the time, the press noted Leo’s prominence among the four men as the sole Catholic.
Throughout the summer of 2005, Leo was instrumental in shoring up support among social conservatives for the nomination of John Roberts, a Catholic himself.
Leo and Roberts were both involved in the Federalist Society throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. However, at the time of his nomination, Roberts stated that he could not recall being part of the organization. Despite this, Roberts was listed as a steering committee member in the group’s Washington chapter in the organization’s 1997-98 leadership directory. When The Washington Post disclosed this information prior to Roberts’ confirmation hearings, Leo said that either he or another official of the group had recruited Roberts to the 19-member committee.
Following the disclosure of Roberts’ involvement in the Federalist Society, the organization demanded a public retraction, claiming that Roberts didn’t officially pay membership dues. This reflected the position of the Society at the time, fending off criticisms that they had undue influence on the George W. Bush administration.
As Roberts’ confirmation hearing neared, Leo took a leave of absence from his post as executive vice president of the Federalist Society to aid the Bush administration with Roberts’ nomination. In this role, Leo served as an “unofficial ambassador” for Roberts and wrote in defense of the nominee in a prominent conservative publication. The Federalist Society likewise hired Creative Response Concepts, a Leo-linked public relations firm, to give its members media training before placing them on TV to advocate for Roberts.
When Chief Justice William Rehnquist unexpectedly died in early September 2005, President Bush withdrew Roberts’ nomination as Justice O’Connor’s replacement and instead nominated him for the office of the chief justice. Leo continued to assist Roberts during his confirmation hearings. On September 29, 2005, the full Senate confirmed Roberts’ nomination, 78-22.
Following Roberts’ confirmation, the George W. Bush administration moved to nominate someone to replace Justice O’Connor. Their first choice was Harriet Miers, who was then serving as White House Counsel. Miers faced significant opposition from the “more vocal Federalist Society types” who were skeptical of Miers’ conservative bona fides. Although Miers’ nomination received public support from Leonard Leo, others in the society attacked Miers through op-eds on multiple grounds, “including her lack of ties to the Federalist Society.”
Miers eventually withdrew her nomination, and Bush nominated Samuel Alito, a “Federalist Society mainstay type” who worked in the Reagan Justice Department with many of the Federalist Society’s founders. Leo briefly worked with Jay Sekulow to coordinate strategy around Alito’s nomination among dozens of conservative, grassroots organizations before returning to his post at the Federalist Society in early November 2005.
On January 31, 2006, the full Senate confirmed Alito to the Supreme Court by a vote of 58-42.
In March 2016, as Donald Trump’s domination of the Republican presidential ticket became increasingly apparent, Leonard Leo met with Trump and his campaign counsel Donald McGahn at the D.C. law offices of Jones Day to discuss the Supreme Court. Their meeting was particularly urgent. Justice Antonin Scalia, the court’s archconservative, had unexpectedly died the month prior. Senate Republicans were determined hold the seat open in hopes the Republicans would retake the White House in November.
According to Leo, at this meeting, McGahn decided that the campaign should identify a slate of acceptable Supreme Court nominees. He tasked Leo with drawing up this list.
In May, Trump published the names of 11 judges who were then serving on federal appeals courts and state supreme courts. He added 10 more names in September, among them Neil Gorsuch, who was then serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
Following Trump’s victory, Leo met with the president-elect at Trump Tower, where Trump made reassurances that he still intended to select Scalia’s replacement from the list that Leo curated.
On January 31, 2017, President Trump nominated Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. As David Kaplan reports in The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside the Supreme Court’s Assault on the Constitution, Gorsuch worked his way onto Trump’s, Leo’s, and McGahn’s radar by writing a key lower court ruling that severely undercut the ability of the federal agencies to create binding regulations–a key goal of the Federalist Society. Gorsuch’s opinion, according to Kaplan, was “a way for Gorsuch to call attention to himself, and it worked.”
At the time of Gorsuch’s nomination, Leo praised the judge as Scalia’s heir, both in office and judicial philosophy.
“What I see in Judge Gorsuch is courage and independence, the willingness to stick to your guns, to make decisions that have to be made that sometimes you may not agree with,” Leo told Fox News. “That is what he has. I think we are seeing in him very much an extension of Justice Scalia’s legacy.”
According to The New Yorker, Leonard Leo “acted as the unofficial mayor” of the Senate during Gorsuch’s confirmation. Leo repeatedly stressed that ushering through Supreme Court nominees was analogous to a political campaign. The Leo-linked group Judicial Crisis Network spent an estimated $10 million to back Neil Gorsuch’s nomination, bolstering similar advocacy by the Federalist Society. This was in addition to the more than $7 million that JCN spent in 2016 on a campaign opposing Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Scalia.
On April 7, 2017, the full Senate confirmed Gorsuch’s nomination by a 54-45 vote.
Shortly after his confirmation to the Supreme Court, Gorsuch took a “victory lap” at a Federalist Society dinner. According to Politico, “Gorsuch vowed to continue to expound the group’s favored judicial philosophies from his new post.”
After Gorsuch’s nomination, the Trump White House issued an updated list of prospective Supreme Court nominees based on recommendations made by Donald McGahn and Leonard Leo. Two key names on this list were Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Kavanaugh was a longtime Federalist Society member and ally of Leo from their time in the George W. Bush administration, where they played key roles in the administration’s judicial selection process. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus reported that “when Brett Kavanaugh’s clerks were trying to make sure he got on Donald Trump’s list to be on the Supreme Court, they made a pilgrimage to the Federalist Society to see Leonard Leo … to kiss the ring.”
Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2018 after Justice Kennedy retired. As he had done with previous nominees, including Gorsuch, Leo took a leave of absence from the Federalist Society to head up the “outside campaign” in support of Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh’s nomination quickly became controversial due to credible allegations of sexual misconduct levied against him. Leo used his network of nonprofits to send $4 million to Independent Women’s Voice, which aimed to refute the allegations against Kavanaugh. In 2019, after Kavanaugh’s narrow confirmation, he was the keynote speaker at the Federalist Society’s annual black-tie dinner where he received a “hero’s welcome.”
Trump released another addition to his list of potential Supreme Court nominees in September 2020 less than two weeks before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September 2020. Despite arguing in 2016 that President Obama should not be allowed to nominate a Justice to the Supreme Court during an election year, two prospective nominees emerged in the mad dash to fill Ginsburg’s seat before the 2020 election: Amy Coney Barret, whom Leo and McGahn urged Trump to add to his list of potential nominees in late 2017, and Barbara Lagoa. Both women were Federalist Society members.
Politico claimed that Barrett was “groomed” as a potential Supreme Court justice by Federalist Society members while studying law at Notre Dame. According to a former member of Notre Dame Law School, the faculty who scouted Barrett’s potential “were trying to create a certain phalanx of people mainly to overturn Roe, but also to prioritize religion.”
The Leo-linked Judicial Crisis Network spent $10 million on a television and digital media campaign in support of Coney Barrett’s confirmation. On October 26, 2022, just eight days before the presidential election, the Senate confirmed Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court by a vote of 52-48.
With Barrett’s confirmation, the majority of Supreme Court justices were tied to the Federalist Society and were at least partially a product of the advocacy of Leonard Leo.
Since President George W. Bush’s victory in the 2004 presidential election, Leonard Leo has operated a growing web of politically focused nonprofit organizations that have infused hundreds of millions of dollars into election campaigns and judicial nominations. Aided by other conservative activists, Leo’s network of “dark money” groups have promulgated multi-million dollar right-wing campaigns backed by undisclosed donors. Through these, Leo and his allies have successfully championed several right-wing causes, most notably the creation of a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
Leonard Leo and longtime political ally Neil Corkery conceived the Judicial Crisis Network (called the Concord Fund as of December 2019) at a dinner party in late 2004 attended by conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Leo and Corkery, a fellow right-wing ideologue and operative, 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.
At the time, Leo was also working for the Bush White House as an outside adviser and coordinator of “all outside coalition activity regarding judicial nominations.” At the Bush White House, Leo was known as a money man who was able to secure funding and drum up support for key judicial nominations among grassroots and advocacy organizations. He would also provide media training for key pundits.
Reporting from OpenSecrets states that Neil’s wife Ann Corkery, an experienced lawyer, conservative fundraiser, and Koch brothers ally, and California “foreclosure king” Robin Arkley II were also in attendance and were instrumental in securing initial funding for the organization, then called the Judicial Confirmation Network. Seed funding for JCN was funneled through the now-defunct Wellspring Committee, a “dark money conduit,” founded with the help of conservative donors, most notably the Koch Brothers and Robin Arkley II, who was also a major funder of the Federalist Society.
Leonard Leo’s now-defunct dark money fundraiser, Wellspring Committee, “accounted for more than 90 percent of JCN’s total funding” until the Committee was dissolved in 2018. McClatchy DC reported that despite his lack of official status at the group, Leo himself played a key role in fundraising for Wellspring. In 2016 alone, the Wellspring Committee donated $23 million to JCN, and in total, between 2012 and 2018, the Wellspring Committee gave JCN $53,684,772. While the Wellspring Committee was the preeminent funder of JCN for a decade, JCN also received funding from various other sources for the first three years of its lifespan.
In 2020, the Rule of Law Trust, a nonprofit organization whose sole employee is Leonard Leo, made a $21.5 million grant to JCN, accounting for nearly half of JCN’s revenue that year. JCN spent nearly $40 million on efforts to confirm Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, primarily through advertisement campaigns. JCN’s campaigns were also key to the appointments and confirmations of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court—as well as the obstruction of Merrick Garland’s confirmation to the Court.
The 85 Fund was founded in 2011 by prominent Republican operatives and is closely tied to Leonard Leo. The fund was called the Judicial Education Project at the time of its founding.
In 2020, Leonard Leo announced his plans to rebrand the Judicial Education Fund as the 85 Fund, with the goal of funneling large sums of money into conservative causes. After legally changing its name from the Judicial Education Project, the 85 Fund’s fundraising skyrocketed to over $50 million, up from an average of $5-15 million in years prior.
The 85 Fund has paid millions of dollars for contracting work to groups and individuals connected to Leonard Leo. In 2020 alone, the 85 Fund paid over $12 million to CRC Advisors, which pushed the 85 Fund’s total payments to CRC Advisors to over $21 million since 2012. The BH Group, a for-profit entity that remains partially owned by Leonard Leo, has received over $3 million for contracting services since 2017, and the Center for Rule of Law has received nearly $4 million since 2017.
The 85 Fund operates and finances the Honest Elections Project, which was founded by Leo in 2020 and whose leadership includes all three of The 85 Fund’s current officers: Carrie Severino, Todd Graves, and Gary Marx. The organization also operates Honest Election Project Action, it’s 501(c)(4) arm.
Prior to the 2020 election, HEP spread disinformation and made unfounded allegations the Democrats were “cheating” and pushed for voter roll purges. HEP spent $250,000 on ads against mail-in voting, calling the practice a “brazen attempt to manipulate the election system for partisan advantage.”
HEP also sent letters and threatened to sue Colorado, Florida, and Michigan over what they called “suspiciously high” voter rolls.
HEP Executive Director Jason Snead hosted a webinar for the State Policy Network ahead of the 2020 election on “voter fraud messaging.” As the group’s spokesperson, Snead has penned op-eds and spoken on behalf of the organization.
Since the 2020 election, the organization has advocated for laws to roll back policies designed to expand voting access.
Free To Learn and Free To Learn Action, also known as the Free To Learn Coalition, is responsible for funding a national anti-critical race theory ad campaign. The coalition is one of several fictitious entities tied to the Judicial Crisis Network (now operating under the name The Concord Fund) and The 85 Fund. The leadership of Free To Learn includes all three of The 85 Fund’s current officers: Carrie Severino, Todd Graves, and Gary Marx.
The BH Fund was formed in January 2016 with two employees: Leonard Leo as president and Jonathan Bunch as treasurer. On November 7, 2022, Jonathan Bunch voluntarily filed articles of termination for the BH Fund and America Engaged with the Virginia State Corporation Commission.
While it was active, the BH Fund, along with the Freedom and Opportunity Fund and American Engaged, seemingly funneled millions between themselves and other Leo-connected groups.
In their first year, these three nonprofits raised nearly $33 million, “with the BH Fund taking in $24,250,000 from a single donor whose identity is still not publicly known.”
In the same year, the BH Fund sent $400,000 to the Freedom and Opportunity Fund, $2.3 million to America Engaged, and $200,000 to Donors Trust; and paid $400,000 to the public relations firm Creative Response Concepts Advisors. In 2018, BH Fund sent America Engaged another $2 million, and in 2019 the organization sent $6 million to the Judicial Crisis Network; $5.5 million to Fidelity Charitable, a donor-advised fund similar to Donors Trust; and $600,000 to the Hispanic Leadership Fund.
Leo reportedly used the BH Fund and its related entities to hide a donation aimed at getting George Mason University (GMU) to rename its law school after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
America Engaged was a nonprofit organization 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 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.
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 entities. Notably, America Engaged paid CRC Advisors, Leo’s for-profit public relations firm, over $1.5 million since America Engaged was incorporated in 2016.
In 2017, America Engaged made a grant totaling $950,000 to the NRA Institute Legislative Affairs. That same year, the NRA announced a $1 million ad campaign in support of Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination.
The Freedom and Opportunity Fund is another nonprofit incorporated in 2016, alongside BH Fund and America Engaged, by the conservative law firm Holtzman Vogel. Leo serves as president of all three groups, though that was not disclosed publicly for nearly three years.
FAOF gave $4 million to the organization Independent Women’s Voice as it assisted the effort to block Merrick Garland’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. In 2017, the organization gave $500,000 to the pro-Trump Super PAC Making America Great and $593,000 to Koch groups.
Rule of Law Trust is a 501(c)(4) group founded in 2018. Its sole employee is Leonard Leo. 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.”
Over its lifetime, RLT has given over $33 million to Leo-connected groups. The lion’s share of this money went to Judicial Crisis Network. 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% of all payments to other groups made by RLT.
Leonard Leo is the chairman of Marble Freedom Trust, a newly formed nonprofit which received a $1.6 billion contribution in 2021 from electronics manufacturing mogul and conservative mega donor Barre Seid. The unprecedented single-gift contribution was likely the largest donation of its kind to a politically oriented nonprofit in American history, and according to an analysis by the New York Times, it is “more than the total of $1.5 billion spent in 2020 by 15 of the most politically active nonprofit organizations that generally align with Democrats.” In the same timeframe as the donation, Marble Freedom Trust donated over $200 million to organizations associated with Leonard Leo.
Becket (formally known as the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty) is a leading legal opponent of LGBTQ and reproductive rights. Leo sits on the organization’s board. The Southern Poverty Law Center dubbed Becket a “hardline” group that promotes “‘religious freedom restoration acts to justify anti-gay discrimination.” Becket has a relatively small budget, with many of its lawyers working pro-bono. Becket successfully defended the right of adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples before the Supreme Court, actively fought to allow discrimination in healthcare, and fought for private schools to be exempt from anti-discrimination laws. According to the Washington Post, Becket “[boasted] an 87 percent success rate” in all cases it took on from 1994 to 2014.
Becket’s highest profile victory came in 2014 with the infamous Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case. Becket represented Hobby Lobby and secured the right of businesses to deny contraception and other healthcare practices to their employees under “religious freedom” protections. The Washington Post claimed that Burwell v. Hobby Lobby “was the legal power behind the Supreme Court’s decision…to extend religious rights to corporations for the first time.” The case greatly elevated the profile of Becket, and Hobby Lobby maintains a website thanking Becket for their role in the case.
Becket also litigated Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, which expanded on the Hobby Lobby decision by allowing for-profit and nonprofit entities to deny contraception and other healthcare practices for religious or ‘moral’ reasons without notice.
The Rule of Law Defense Fund is the 501(c)(4) political and fundraising arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association; together, the organizations facilitate coordination between GOP attorneys general and aid legal challenges to federal programs and protections. RLDF and RAGA are heavily funded by groups in Leonard Leo’s network: the Concord Fund (formerly known as the Judicial Crisis Network), a dark money operation led by Leo’s close associate Carrie Severino, has given RLDF nearly $1.6 million. The Concord Fund has given millions more to RAGA, donating $1 million to the group in 2022 alone.
RLDF helped organize the “March to Save America” rally on January 6, 2021, that preceded the violent attack on the Capitol: RLDF sent robocalls urging “patriots” to “call on Congress to stop the steal,” and RAGA and RLDF were both listed as organizers on the March to Save America website. The organizations have also played key roles in supporting GOP attorneys general in their fight against the Biden administration’s climate initiatives, and pushing to anti-abortion candidates who are responsible enforcing restrictive abortion laws at the state level.
Leonard Leo serves on the board of governors for the Council for National Policy, an influential and highly secretive networking group for major conservative donors and activists, right-wing religious extremists, and Republican lawmakers. In 2004, the New York Times called the CNP a “little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country.” The group holds private meetings three times a year.
CNP’s membership lists have included leaders of right-wing groups, including ALEC, the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society, and Alliance Defending Freedom. Former Vice President Mike Pence was listed as a member on a January 2022 roster along with DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund president Lawrence Bader and Judicial Crisis Network president Carrie Severino. According to Documented, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has spoken at CNP events, and his wife Ginni Thomas is a board member of CNP’s 501(c)(4) arm and a frequent speaker.
The Southern Poverty Law Center described the CNP 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.” Many current and former members of the CNP have ties to SPLC-designated hate groups, particularly anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim groups. According to journalist and author Anne Nelson, the CNP was “instrumental in convincing Trump to institute his infamous Muslim travel ban” and “has been active at the state level helping to promote voter suppression measures.”
The CNP almost exclusively works in closed meetings, and more recently has used the Conservative Partnership Institute “as a public face for CNP tactics developed behind closed doors.” The CPI actsas an incubator for right-wing advocacy groups and held “election integrity” summits in Georgia, Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Michigan, which screened a documentary by the Capital Research Center about how Mark Zuckerberg “manipulated” the 2020 election, and held panels promoting false claims of fraud and conspiracies about mail-in and absentee voting.
Tea Party Patriots was founded in 2009 by Jenny Beth Martin alongside Amy Kremer and Mark Meckler. The group claims to be the nation’s largest grassroots Tea Party organization. The Tea Party movement was characterized as a backlash to the election of Barack Obama by political scientists. Progressive commentary from outlets such as Vox and writers like Will Bunch specifically claimed the Tea Party backlash was racial in nature.
Tea Party Patriots was a key ally of Leo and the Federalist Society’s effort to block the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Tea Party Patriots co-founder and president Jenny Beth Martin said the organization “overwhelmingly supported” Leo’s effort to ensure Antonin Scalia’s seat was not “filled by a lame-duck president during his final months in office.”
Since 2016, Judicial Crisis Network has donated over $3.2 million to Tea Party Patriots:
|Judicial Crisis Network||$2,765,000.00||2016|
|Judicial Crisis Network||$200,000.00||2017|
|Judicial Crisis Network||$150,000.00||2019|
|Judicial Crisis Network||$100,000.00||2018|
Tea Party Patriots were listed as one of the sponsors of the March To Save America Rally which was scheduled on January 6th, 2021 in Washington D.C.. The rally, which was organized to protest the 2020 election, immediately preceded the Capitol Riot.
Leonard Leo is the co-chairman of the board of the powerful anti-abortion group Students for Life. SFLA was created “recruit, train, and mobilize” younger generations to completely abolish abortion. SFLA does not support any exemptions to abortion bans, including rape and incest exemptions. SFLA tells its members that those who support abortion do “not care about rape, incest, or even the woman.”
Students for Life attempts to reach children and teens “during the crucial developmental years” in order to turn them into effective anti-abortion activists. It encourages middle schoolers to screen movies that call abortion “black genocide” and parents to show their children graphic content to turn them against abortion.
In its 2020-21 annual report, SFLA claimed to have over 1,200 chapters in all 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. On its website, SFLA claims to have trained over 127,000 activists since its inception in 2006. In the annual report, SFLA encourages supporters to write the organization into their wills as a means of fundraising.
Leonard Leo sits on the board of directors of Reclaim New York alongside Rebekah Mercer and Jennifer Mercer. The group was founded by Rebekah Mercer, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway, and former Breitbart editor-in-chief Steve Bannon in 2013. It is financed by Rebekah’s father, billionaire right-wing megadonor Robert Mercer. Leo joined the organization in 2013. Bannon left the organization in 2016 as he “masterminded” Trump’s presidential campaign.
Rebekah Mercer and Steve Bannon are key figures in the alt-right movement, which holds white ethnonationalism as a key value according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Washington Post called Mercer the “First Lady Of The Alt-Right” and Bannon proudly called Breitbart under his stewardship “the platform for the alt-right.” Bannon has also been connected to neo-nazi and white supremacist movements. Together, Bannon and Rebekha and Robert Mercer built a powerful right-wing base in the 2010s. Recently, Bannon called on his radical supporters to take over the U.S. election system after attempts to overturn the 2020 election failed.
Reclaim New York has been criticized as “being a front to espouse [Robert] Mercer’s views.” Mercer is reportedly racist, claiming the Civil Rights Act was a mistake and that there are no “white racists,” only “black racists.” He is also known to be a climate change denier and a believer of fundamentalist Christianity. Reclaim New York attacked universal health care initiatives, wind power projects, taxes, and the construction of a new hospital. It also sued at least 11 school districts for denying or delaying responses to public records requests. A judge had to grant one of these districts, Rockland County, a so-called “Mercer Mercy Rule” to exempt them from paying Reclaim New York’s legal fees.
In addition to his vast network of nonprofit organizations, Leonard Leo has been associated with two for-profit businesses: BH Group and CRC Advisors.
BH Group is a limited liability company formed in 2016 in Virginia. According to a 2018 IRS filing for the Leo-linked Rule of Law Trust, Leo owned more than 35% of the BH Group at the time. The BH Group’s Virginia business records do not list any staff; however, Leonard Leo was identified as an “authorized person” in a 2022 filing update with the Virginia State Corporation Commission regarding the organization’s registered agent. Leo also listed BH Group as his employer in a 2018 campaign finance filing.
Four months after its creation; the, the BH Group donated $1 million to Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee in an apparent attempt to prevent disclosure of the true donor’s name. Despite receiving large sums of money for contracted work from the other Leo-connected groups, the BH Group does not market itself as a public relations firm, nor does the group have any public presence. However, The BH Group has received over $15 million from other Leo-connected groups, including Rule of Law Trust, Judicial Crisis Network, 85 Fund, and Wellspring Committee, since its inception in 2016.
Leonard Leo is also the chairman of the Virginia-based consulting and public relations firm CRC Advisors, Inc. Leo and his longtime associate, Greg Mueller, launched CRC Advisors in 2020 when Leo stepped down as executive vice president of the Federalist Society. CRC Advisors evolved out of Mueller’s existing communications firm, Creative Response Concepts, which formerly assumed names such as CRC Public Relations and CRC Strategies. Creative Response Concepts is perhaps most
Mueller remains CEO of CRC Advisors. The company’s president is Jonathan Bunch, a former senior vice president at the Federalist Society who was described as Leo’s “right-hand man” at the organization.
The extent to which Leo was involved with Creative Response Concepts prior to the creation of CRC Advisors in 2020 is not publicly known. The Federalist Society hired Creative Response Concepts while Leo served as an executive at the organization. For example, in anticipation of President Bush’s first Supreme Court nomination, the Federalist Society engaged Mueller’s firm “to train members and place them on television shows during the confirmation process.” Groups connected to Leonard Leo have also paid over $41 million to the firm and its successor since 2012. Today, CRC Advisors is staffed by several former Federalist Society leaders.
|85 Fund (FKA Judicial Education Project)||$ 12,117,335.00||2020|
|85 Fund (FKA Judicial Education Project)||$ 5,881,250.00||2019|
|Judicial Crisis Network||$ 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)||$ 995,000.00||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|
While media reports have identified Leonard Leo as “maestro” of the nonprofit web working to generate public support for conservative causes, he has also cultivated a vast network of right-wing megadonors and activists to finance and run his operation.
Neil and 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.”
Ann Corkery, known for her fundraising prowess, founded the Wellspring Committee, the Koch-funded dark money group that was the main funder of Judicial Crisis Network until it sunsetted in 2018. She was also “instrumental” in launching JCN and currently serves as counsel of the 85 Fund, Leonard Leo’s primary fundraising operation. Ann served as a co-chair of the National Women for Mitt Finance Committee for Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Neil Corkery is pervasive in the sphere of organizations connected to Leonard Leo, serving in various capacities, often keeper of the books or treasurer, over the years for the 85 Fund, Wellspring Committee, Judicial Crisis Network, Marble Freedom Trust, America Engaged, Rule of Law Trust, Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, and Liberty Central among others.
Carrie Severino is the President of the Judicial Crisis Network (FKA the Concord Fund), and she is also affiliated with the Judicial Education Project (now known as the 85 Fund). Husband Roger Severino is the Vice President of Domestic Policy of the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center. Carrie is a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and Roger has called Thomas “one of [his] heroes.”
The New York Times called Roger and Carrie Severino “leaders in the anti-abortion movement” and said the couple “celebrated” the fall of Roe v. Wade. Carrie Severino called Roe “the most egregious judicial distortion of the constitution in living memory.” A different piece from The New York Times said that the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court was the realization of the Severinos’ “dream” to enforce a socially conservative legal mandate on the United States.
During the Trump Administration, Roger led the Office Of Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services. There, he created a ‘religious freedom’ division that aided healthcare providers who refused to provide abortions or gender-affirming care. He also reversed Obama-era protections that banned LGBTQ discrimination in healthcare.
Throughout the years, Carrie Severino has advocated for the anti-abortion movement while working at JCN:
Carrie Severino faced public criticism for her zealous defense of Brett Kavanaugh as he faced accusations of sexual assault and misconduct.
Carrie Severino’s father was a business partner of Daniel DeVos of the right-wing megadonor DeVos family. The Guardian said that the DeVos family has “promoted right-wing causes and candidates for years” and HuffPost described the family as “conservative royalty.” Vanity Fair found that the DeVos family gave as much as $200 million to conservative causes since the 1970s. Trump’s controversial education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is a member of the family.
Gary Marx is a political strategist identified as one of the “official partners in Leo’s consolidated dark money network,” and has held roles at the central nonprofits Judicial Crisis Network and the 85 Fund. Marx is a consistent aid to Leo, and was present alongside Leo at a private reception celebrating Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
The Daily Beast reports that Marx was recruited by close Leo ally, Neil Corkery, to be the executive director for the Judicial Crisis Network, the 85 Project’s sister organization. Marx has also been affiliated with similar groups that have received funding from Leo’s network, such as the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
In addition to roles with the Judicial Crisis Network and the 85 Fund, Marx is the president and co-founder of Madison Strategies, a conservative political consulting firm. Madison Strategies counts Walmart, Senator Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, and Judicial Crisis Network among its clients.
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.”
Daniel Casey is a “veteran GOP operative” and was listed as president of the 85 Fund in 2017. He also served as the president of the Judicial Crisis Network in 2019.
The Washington Post reported that Casey has “worked closely with Leo for years” while receiving no pay from the nonprofits, although Casey’s public affairs firm DC Strategies received more than $1.5 million in fees from the Federalist Society over nine years.
Casey was formerly the executive director of the American Conservative Union. In this role, was a crucial figure in the confirmation battle over Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987. Casey said Bork’s hearings were a “grand-slam” against his critics. In a CSPAN program from 1987, Casey said the Bork nomination was the American Conservative Union’s “number one lobbying priority” at the time.
In 2011, Ann Corkey, in her capacity as the head of the Wellspring Committee, fired two board members to replace them with her daughter Kathleen Corkery and Daniel Casey’s son Michael Casey. The two would go on to serve on the Wellspring Committee’s board in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
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 1996 campaign and has worked and lobbied for Keene, Shirley & Associates. It also appears that Mueller was a spokesman for the National Conservative Foundation.
Mueller and Leo have known each other since 2004, and began discussing the creation of a new organization as early as 2019. Both Leo and Mueller sit on the board of Students for Life, an anti-abortion student group.
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. In addition, he is a director at America Engaged and the Freedom and Opportunity Fund, two 501(c)(4) organizations where Leonard Leo serves as an officer. He 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.”
The 45Commitee is a “pro-Trump nonprofit organization” founded in 2015 and “primarily funded” by Sheldon Adelson and TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts. The group spent millions to support Donald Trump’s candidacy and back his cabinet appointees.
The 45Committee is a notable funder of Leo’s Judicial Crisis Network. In 2016, the 45Committee gave JCN $200,000, and in 2018, the 45Committee gave JCN $3,000,000.
The Wellspring Committee is a now-defunct dark money group that provided key funding to major parts of the Leo Network, most notably the Judicial Crisis Network. Over 90% of Judicial Crisis Network’s funding between 2008 and 2018 came from Wellspring, totaling over $54 million. With this key funding, Judicial Crisis Network ran influence campaigns to confirm Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and block Merrick Garland’s nomination. McClatchy DC reported that despite his lack of official status at the group, Leo himself played a key role in fundraising for Wellspring.
OpenSecrets said in 2019 that Wellspring and its operatives “reshaped the way the game is played” and “ushered in a new era of increasingly expensive judicial battles largely fueled by deep-pocketed donors whose identities remain secret.” The group continued to have an outsize influence in judicial battles after its dissolution in 2018 through the “countless dark money groups it helped sire and judges now on the bench thanks in part to its anonymous financiers’ generosity.” Neil Corkery also served in various leadership roles at Wellspring during its tenure.
The Rule of Law Project only existed from 2014 to 2016, with Leo serving as its director. ROLP donated $145,000 to the Rule of Law Defense Fund in 2014. In 2016, The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a legal complaint against ROLP for allegedly making false representation to the IRS while supporting the campaign of Wisconsin Attorney General and Federalist Society member Brad Schimel.
The conservative megafunder Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation was set up by Harry Bradley, who made a fortune pioneering electric motor technology. His brother Lynde died in 1942, and the Bradley Foundation was set up the same year in his honor. Harry was a founding member of the far-right conspiracist group, the John Birch Society, which influenced his political and philanthropic endeavors. After Harry died in 1965, the profits from the sale of the Bradley Company were largely directed to the Foundation, turning it from a relatively small nonprofit into a major funding source for conservative issues and projects. While there are no longer any members of the Bradley family directly involved with the Foundation and Impact fund, it has been run by individuals with ties to the conservative movement since the 1980s.
According to internal documents, Leo coordinated with the Bradley Foundation in 2014 to provide funding to his Judicial Education Project (now known as the 85 Fund) to flood the Supreme Court with amicus briefs supporting right-wing causes. The 85 Fund has continued to recieve funding from the Bradley Foundation after its rebrand. Leo and key Federalist Society members also received the 2009 Bradley Prize for their work.
Since its inception, the Bradley Foundation has given away more than $1 billion, much of it to conservative causes related to civil rights, voting rights, welfare, education, climate change, and labor, among other issue areas. The Bradley Foundation has:
The Center For Medical Progress is an extremist anti-abortion group known for using deceptively edited videos to spread conspiracy theories. One of its board members, Troy Newman, is banned from Australia for his violence-inciting anti-abortion rhetoric. CFMP ran a campaign promoting their deceptively edited sting videos designed to “permanently damage” Planned Parenthood. Despite the videos being debunked, and Planned Parenthood being awarded $2 million in a lawsuit against CFMP, the claims originated in the videos had a notable impact. Right-wing politicians used the videos to attempt to defund Planned Parenthood and launched numerous investigations into Planned Parenthood at state and congressional levels. CFMP’s videos were even cited by an extremist who opened fire on a Planned Parenthood and killed three people in 2015.
Leo and close associates Jonathan Bunch and Greg Muller advised CFMP’s leader on how to “ensure successful prosecutions” against Planned Parenthood. They appeared to discuss coordinating a criminal probe into Planned Parenthood with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Leo sits on the board of directors of the Catholic Information Center. CIC is a bookstore and chapel based in Washington, D.C. that serves as a hub for powerful and wealthy conservative figures in Washington, including politicians, academics, and journalists. The organization regularly hosts anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ speakers and is affiliated with Opus Dei, a secretive and ultra-conservative Catholic society. Opus Dei has been accused of “having cult-like practices and promoting a right-wing agenda” and opposes same-sex marriage, divorce, abortion, and contraception. Close Leo associates Neil and Ann Corkery claimed to be members of Opus Dei in a 1990 interview.
In 2002, Slate described the former director of the center Rev. John McCloskey as the “Catholic Church’s K Street lobbyist,” and McCloskey himself called it D.C.’s “downtown center of evangelization” for Catholicism. In 2019, the Washington Post wrote, “the small center — its members and its leaders — continue to have an outsize impact on policy and politics. It is the conservative spiritual and intellectual center that McCloskey had imagined, and its influence is felt in all of Washington’s corridors of power.” Notable figures who have served on the Board of Directors include former Attorney General William Barr and White House counsel to former President Trump Pat Cipollone.
Catholic Voices is an international nonprofit founded to give members of the Catholic church media training so they could speak on television and radio about issues related to the Church. Catholic Voices was founded in 2010 in the United Kingdom but has spread to over 20 countries. The Washington Post reported that Catholic Voices USA was launched in 2012 after Leo joined the boards of the Catholic Association and affiliated Catholic Association Fund. The Catholic Association organizations “funded campaigns to rally Catholic voters and stop states from recognizing same-sex marriage.” While Catholic Voices USA’s website is no longer active, its Facebook page appears to be up still though it hasn’t posted since 2018.
In 2010, Virginia Thomas launched a well-funded tea party group, Liberty Central which featured Leonard Leo on its board and hired CRC for public relations work. Cleta Mitchell filed Liberty Central’s registration just eight days after the Citizens United decision, and 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 larger of the two donations coming from GOP 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, with spokespeople from CRC Advisors (then CRC Public Relations) going on the record to confirm that CRC did public relations work for Liberty Central. Shortly after leaving Liberty Central, Virginia Thomas started a new firm, Liberty Consulting, where she “billed herself as an ambassador to the newly-elected Tea Party Republicans in Congress.”
The Catholic Association Foundation is the 501(c)(3) arm of The Catholic Association. Together they advocate for conservative causes, including campaigns against abortion and same-sex marriage. Close Leo allies Neil and Ann Corkery helped launch The Catholic Association in 2007 with the goal of influencing policy-makers on issues concerning “the family, Catholic institutions, religious liberty, and cultural values.” Leo joined the boards of both organizations in 2012. In addition to Neil Corkery, Leo network operative Daniel Casey has also served in leadership positions at the organizations.
The Catholic Association Foundation is funded almost entirely by Donors Trust, receiving $5.5 million from “the dark-money ATM of the right” in 2020 and $6.3 million in 2019.
As of 2022, The Catholic Association Foundation and The Catholic Association were directed by anti-abortion activists Ashley McGuire and Grazie Christie. McGuire has attacked the trans community in many media appearances and writings. Christie joined TCAF in filing an amicus brief in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which overturned Roe v. Wade and the organization has filed briefs in other cases “advancing a religious-based right to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans.”
The Napa Legal Institute, a project of the Napa Institute, is a traditionalist Catholic organization based in Napa, California, that functions as a legal resource network for Catholic nonprofits and professionals “dedicated to advancing religious liberty.” The National Catholic Reporter described the Napa Legal Institute as a mixture between “conservative theology and libertarian economics.”
Napa was founded in 2018 by billionaire Tim Busch and his law firm partner John Peiffer, the organization has been called “among the most prominent of a growing number of right-wing Catholic nonprofits with political motivations.” Busch said that organizations like Napa and his other organizations like Legatus, a Catholic organization for wealthy business executives” are part of the forces driving the “evangelization of our country.” Leo and Becket CEO William Mumma sit on Napa’s board.
Leo appears to have used his shadowy nonprofit BH Fund and its related entities to hide an anonymous $20 million donation aimed at getting George Mason University (GMU) to rename its law school after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. That anonymous donor is reportedly Barre Seid, the same right-wing megadonor who gave Leo’s Marble Freedom Trust an unprecedented $1.6 billion dollar donation in 2021. Leo also facilitated a $10 million donation from Charles Koch in service of the name change.
The donations and renaming effort were criticized, seen as an unprecedented expansion of the Federalist Society’s and Koch’s influence on the public university. It has been reported that The Antonin Scalia Law School, thanks to Leo’s facilitation, regularly consults Leo for operational guidance, including adjunct faculty selection and student admissions.
George Mason University is also home to the Mercatus Center, a think tank with major Koch and conservative funding.
Arlington Advisory Forum is a now-inactive group where Leo served as director. The group was founded in 2016 but lapsed into inactive status in 2018.
The Youth Leadership Program is a Washington D.C.-based youth mentorship program. The organization provides educational, leadership, business, and mentorship programs to children across the district. It was reported in 2007 that Leo served on the board of the Youth Leadership Foundation. However, while Leo did appear on the organization’s 2006 tax filings he did not appear on the organization’s tax filings in 2007 or in subsequent years.
At the core of the foundation are its Program for Academic and Leadership Skills (PALS) and the Tenley Achievement Program (TAP), which were developed in part by the Catholic sect Opus Dei.
The Ethics and Policy Center is a conservative think tank dedicated to applying “Judeo-Christian tradition” to public policy. Leo sits on the organization’s board of directors.
The Ethics and Policy Center was founded in 1976 by Ernest Lefever, who is perhaps known as a rejected Reagan nominee to the State Department for his ultraconservative, hawkish views. Lefever did not believe the U.S. should undertake foreign policy initiative to support human rights efforts while simultaneously defending the use of torture by anti-communist dictatorships. Elliot Abrahams, who pled guilty to withholding information from congress in attempts to cover up the Iran-Contra scandal, served as the president of the Center from 1996 to 2001.
In 2018, long-time head of the Ethics And Policy Center Ed Whelan faced immense backlash for suggesting, without evidence, that Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser may have mistaken him for someone else. Whelan was a close ally of Kavanaugh. Whelan stepped down in 2021 to be replaced by former Heritage Foundation fellow Ryan Anderson. The Washington Post called Anderson a “fresh voice” in the movement to oppose same-sex marriage, and he wrote a book that claimed trans people were suffering from mental illnesses that are “being forced on the public by the state.”
Leo serves on the board of visitors at the Busch School of Business and on the board of trustees at Catholic University.
The Busch School of business was founded by “extremely conservative” Catholic businessman Tim Busch, who also founded the Napa Legal Institute. According to Catholic publication La Croix International, the Busch School Of Business “promotes radical economic liberalism.” This is in line with Busch’s other organizations–The National Catholic Reporter described the Napa Legal Institute as a mixture between “conservative theology and libertarian economics.”
It was reported in 2007 that Leo served on the board of the Catholic Action Network. The Washington D.C.-based Catholic Action Network had its nonprofit status revoked in 2010.
The National Catholic Prayer Breakfast was founded in 2004 by a group of conservative catholic political operatives, faith leaders, and businessmen. It holds annual banquets that serve as a gathering of key Catholics. Among its founders include Leonard Leo, then national co-chair of Catholic Outreach for the Republican National Committee. Other founders include former Senator and conservative political pundit Rick Santorum and former U.S. ambassador Joseph Cella. The organization has been characterized by critics as a partisan, right-wing organization.
Notable speakers at the NCPB include then-sitting president George W. Bush, the former Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, late conservative Supreme Court Justice and Leo ally Antonin Scalia, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Vice President Mike Pence, and former George H.W. Bush and Trump attorney general William Barr.
The Order Of Malta is a Catholic lay religious order that dates back to the early 12th century. While not a nation, the Order functions as a sovereign and maintains diplomatic relationships with numerous countries worldwide, and is a United Nations Assembly observer. Leo is a Knight in the Order of Malta.
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