The 85 Fund (formerly known as the Judicial Education Project) is a 501(c)(3) organization that operates within Leonard Leo’s network of conservative nonprofits aiming to influence the federal judiciary and the American political system more broadly.
In 2020, Leonard Leo and business associate Greg Mueller formed CRC Advisors. As part of this new entity’s formation, they rebranded the Judicial Crisis Network and the Judicial Education Project as the Concord Fund and the 85 Fund, respectively. As a result, these organizations were able “to funnel tens of millions of dollars into conservative fights around the country.”
The Judicial Education Project legally changed its name to the 85 Fund in 2020 and almost immediately raised $20 million dollars, much of it from the powerful conservative “dark money” group, Donors Trust.
In recent years, particularly in 2020, the 85 Fund sent millions of dollars to other conservative and right-wing groups and was linked to efforts to overturn the 2020 election. DonorsTrust, which has both given money to and received money from the 85 Fund, gave at least $28 million in 2020 to entities that supported attempts to overturn the 2020 election or spread false information about fraud in the 2020 election.
The 85 Fund is one of the integral dark money organizations within Leonard Leo’s network of conservative nonprofit groups working to influence the American federal court system.
As the 85 Fund saw massive gains in funding and influence, Leo became the central force in the effort by the right to stack conservative judges on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Even before its funding explosion in 2020, The 85 Fund (then known as the Judicial Education Project) facilitated a funding network for Leo-linked right-wing organizations for nearly a decade.
|Creative Response Concepts||$12,117,335.00||2020|
|Creative Response Concepts||$5,881,250.00||2019|
|Creative Response Concepts||$978,000.00||2018|
|Creative Response Concepts||$995,000.00||2017|
|Creative Response Concepts||$1,187,500.00||2016|
|Creative Response Concepts||$734,000.00||2015|
|Creative Response Concepts||$165,000.00||2012|
The 85 Fund’s strategy for advancing conservative policies has also included filing amicus briefs with the Supreme Court, “siding with Republicans and the Trump administration on issues like abortion, climate change, the Affordable Care Act, and the Voting Rights Act.”
As the reported founder of the 85 Fund, Leonard Leo has used the organization to further the right’s effort to influence the federal judiciary. Leonard Leo was “widely known as a confidant to Trump” and served as Trump’s Supreme Court Advisor during the nominations of Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Neil Gorsuch. During the Kavanaugh nomination, Leo assured a group of top Koch network donors that it was “just the beginning of an even bigger effort to load up the federal judiciary with conservative judges.”
Leo is considered “arguably the most powerful figure in the federal justice system” with his “network of interlocking nonprofits” that aggressively support conservative judges.
Thomas has hired Leo’s PR firm CRC Advisors to promote his memoir and a documentary about Thomas.
Neil Corkery founded the Judicial Education Project in 2011. He and his wife Ann Corkery are influential right-wing operatives closely involved in Leonard Leo’s network of nonprofits seeking to advance religious right-wing agendas. Salon reported that the Corkerys have used the network they built alongside Leonard Leo “to prop up conservative judicial nominees.”
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.”
Carrie Severino, secretary and principal officer of the 85 Fund, is also the president of the Judicial Crisis Network (FKA the Concord Fund). She is a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and a member of the Federalist Society.
Severino is connected to the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center through her husband Roger, who works there as the Vice President of Domestic Policy. During the Trump Administration, Roger led the Office Of Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services. There, Roger 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.
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.
Throughout the years, Carrie Severino has advocated for the anti-abortion movement:
Carrie Severino faced public criticism for her zealous defense of Brett Kavanaugh as he faced accusations of sexual assault and misconduct.
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 family member.
Severino is also a frequent Fox News contributor.
Gary Marx, treasurer of The 85 Fund, is a longtime Judicial Crisis Network officer and is listed as a Federalist Society contributor. Marx is a political strategist identified as one of the “official partners in Leo’s consolidated dark money network” and a consistent aid to Leo. Marx was present alongside Leo at a private reception celebrating Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Marx was reportedly recruited by a close Leo ally, Neil Corkery, to be the executive director for the Judicial Crisis Network, the 85 Fund’s sister organization. Marx was also 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, Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, and Judicial Crisis Network among its clients.
The Washington Post reported that Casey has “worked closely with Leo for years” while receiving no pay from the nonprofits. However, 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, he was a key 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 later serve on the Wellspring Committee’s board in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
In 2020, the 85 Fund was responsible for over $35 million in grants distributed to right-wing activist organizations.
The largest of these grants was a single $12.5 million grant given to DonorsTrust, a donor-advised fund that’s been described as the “dark-money ATM of the conservative movement.” However, from 2012 to 2018, grants from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund accounted for approximately 87% of funding for the 85 Fund. While DonorsTrust primarily acts as a funding group for the 85 Fund, the organizations sometimes transfer funds to one another in both directions.
The 85 Fund gave millions of dollars to numerous groups seeking to influence the judiciary and legal sphere in 2020– many of which are directly connected to Leonard Leo, including the Federalist Society, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, and Students for Fair Admissions.
TOTAL CONTRIBUTIONS TO ACTIVIST GROUPS IN 2020: $35,546,291
|Turning Point USA||$2,750,000.00|
|Foundation for Government Accountability||$2,000,000.00|
|New Civil Liberties Alliance||$1,000,000.00|
|The Legacy Foundation||$750,000.00|
|Real Clear Foundation||$750,000.00|
|Job Creators Network||$500,000.00|
|Institute for Free Speech||$500,000.00|
|Committee to Unleash Prosperity||$500,000.00|
|Ethics and Public Policy Center||$488,000.00|
|Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust||$450,000.00|
|Public Interest Legal Foundation||$400,000.00|
|Equal Voting Rights Institute||$350,000.00|
|Energy and Environment Legal Institute||$350,000.00|
|Independent Women’s Forum||$310,000.00|
|Foundation for Individual Rights in Education||$300,000.00|
|Students for Fair Admissions||$250,000.00|
|Competitive Enterprise Institute||$250,000.00|
|Susan B Anthony List Education Fund||$175,000.00|
|Center for Equal Opportunity||$150,000.00|
|The Orrin Hatch Foundation||$100,000.00|
|Network of Enlightened Women||$100,000.00|
|Faith and Freedom Coalition||$100,000.00|
|Concerned Women for America||$100,000.00|
|Americans of Faith||$100,000.00|
|Americans for Limited Government Research||$75,000.00|
|The Committee for Justice Foundation||$50,000.00|
|Legal Insurrection Foundation||$50,000.00|
|Heritage Action for America||$50,000.00|
The 85 Fund has a history of operating under alternate names and has declared five “fictitious” names for itself, including:
According to The Guardian and OpenSecrets, “the legal maneuver allows [the Judicial Education Project] to operate under four different names with little public disclosure that it is the same group.”
Two of these fictitious names outwardly present themselves as independent organizations: Honest Elections Project and Free to Learn. And both groups have fictitious counterparts run by the Concord Fund/Judicial Crisis Network, named Honest Elections Project Action and Free to Learn Action, respectively.
The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) is the lynchpin of Leonard Leo’s network-wide efforts to capture the judicial system, which has led to the nomination of five Supreme Court justices. JCN is the public face of Leonard Leo’s “network of interlocking nonprofits” that aggressively supports conservative judges and Leo’s efforts to transform the courts – including its dark money sister organization, the 85 Fund. Leo’s shadow empire has allowed him to meet and “cultivate almost every important Republican lawyer in more than a generation.”
The 85 Fund operates and finances the Honest Elections Project (HEP), 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.
Free To Learn and Free To Learn Action, also known as the Free To Learn Coalition, are behind the funding of a national anti-critical race theory ad campaign. The coalition is one of several fictitious entities tied to the powerful dark-money, right-wing groups Judicial Crisis Network (now operating under the name the Concord Fund) and the 85 Fund.