Conservative legal activist Leonard Leo has become the target of media outlets alleging he commands a sinister network of “dark money” organizations that have shaped the current conservative majority on the Supreme Court and influenced the justices’ rulings.
A June 30 opinion piece in The Guardian called Leo the “king of dark money,” and alleged his operation has been “working to influence some of the supreme court’s most consequential cases.”
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee recently sent a letter to Leo requesting information about undisclosed gifts to Supreme Court justices.
In part one of the Maine Wire’s podcast interview with Leonard Leo, Editor-in-Chief Steve Robinson gave Leo the chance to address these claims and lay out a defense of anonymous spending in politics:
What do you make of the phenomenon of anonymous money, being how close you are to it? Do you think that it’s ultimately healthy for American society, culture, politics, to allow this extent of anonymous political giving?
“Well first of all, I’ve always kind of chuckled at this idea that somehow I’m involved with dark money, because does anybody really doubt what it is that I’m helping to support? I think I’ve been pretty transparent about what I believe in, and pretty transparent about how I think the rule of law should be administered in our country. And so, I don’t think there’s a lot of opacity or darkness about what it is that I and the institutions I’m a part of help to support.
But look, you touched upon the history of our country. Our country has a rich history of anonymous giving, going all the way back to the Revolutionary War. The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the women’s suffrage moment, the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the gay rights movement of the 70s and 80s, all of those movements were in important part — or in significant part, sometimes — supported by anonymous giving.
And there’s a reason for it, right? There’s a reason for it. And the reason is because, the power of ideas, the power of the ideas ought to matter more than the peculiar personalities of the people who are supporting them. We should judge what we want to do in this country by the intellectual and moral force of an idea, not by the quirky personality, or looks, or wealth, or whatever of the people supporting it.
Look at the underlying idea — does it make sense? Is it morally justifiable? Is it intellectually supportable? And that’s why people give anonymously, so that people can focus their attention on the ideas.”
Leo then pointed to examples of left-wing megadonors who donate anonymously, such as George Soros, Hansjorg Wyss, Jeff Skoll, Jeff Bezos, and the Arabella Advisors network.
Swiss Billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, who as a foreign national is barred from funding campaign activities in the U.S., has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars toward left-wing causes.
According to a July 8 report from Americans For Public Trust, Wyss helped start the Hub Project, part of the Arabella network that serves as a clearinghouse for liberal advertising campaigns, and has directed over $208 million to the Arabella’s Sixteen Thirty Fund, one of the biggest political spenders on the left.
Arabella-affiliated funds have supported several liberal activist groups in Maine, including the Maine People’s Alliance, Maine Equal Justice, the Maine Women’s Lobby, the Maine Center for Economic Policy, and Maine Gun Safety.
In Leo’s view, the reason why donors give anonymously, both on the left and the right, is because they do not want the ideas they support to be about them as individuals.
“I think both sides — or at least the most significant players on both sides — recognize that there’s a reason for this. And it’s not to hide in the shadows, it’s because we want ideas judged by their own moral and intellectual force, and it shouldn’t really matter who is supporting them,” Leo said.
“What really matters is what those ideas stand for, and how they work, and whether they have the force of persuasion,” he added. “It’s really a bogeyman. It’s a cheap way of not having a serious debate about the underlying issue.”
Robinson then asked Leo to address the left’s branding effort to dub the current conservative-dominated Supreme Court the “dark money court.”
“I think when people talk about the ‘dark money court,’ it’s wrought out of frustration that this court is making decisions that they disagree with,” Leo said. “They don’t like the fact that the Supreme Court said that there is no right to abortion in the Constitution and that that very significant moral and political question needs to be decided by the elected branches of the state and federal government.”
“They don’t like the fact that the court has decided that the Fourteenth Amendment really does mean colorblindness, and therefore racial preferences at universities and colleges can’t really stand the force of reason under the Constitution,” he said.
According to Leo, when liberals talk about dark money and its influence on the Supreme Court, what they’re really doing is attacking the court as an institution, and trying to damage the reputations of the justices.
“Any even casual observer of the Supreme Court honestly knows, in his heart and soul, honestly knows, that these justices, both left and right, aren’t influenced by so-called dark money,” Leo said.
“These interest groups and these Democrat Senators would not have fought as hard as they did, if they didn’t think these jurists were going to come out differently than they are today,” he said. “They knew going into this that the jurisprudence of our court was likely to change, because the methods of interpretation and the respect for the Constitution as its written was going to begin to filter into the institution.
“I don’t think anyone can really seriously believe that these justices are influenced by outside friendships, a dinner party, a fishing trip, a plane ride — and by the way, if the left really thought that, then guess what, the conversation we have today would look a little bit different,” he added.
Leo brought up the example of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s relationship with the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF), which named a lecture series in her honor.
Justice Ginsburg gave an autographed opinion to the LDF for auction, and now the group frequently is before the Supreme Court, writing briefs and arguing cases.
“Does anyone really think that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was somehow influenced by that relationship that she had? No,” Leo said.
“And of course, the left doesn’t bring these things up, even though arguably they’re worse than some of the things they’re bringing up in the case of conservative justices, because they know in their heart of hearts that these justices on the court are extremely intelligent, extremely capable, strong-convicted people, who are going to decide what they decide based on their intellect and their own sense of integrity,” he said.
“We can have this sort of street theater about dark money, or we can have street theater about ‘oh, are these justices on the take’ — all of these are strategies for avoiding the tough job of defending the moral and intellectual force of your position,” he added.
“And that’s what they should be doing, not what they’re doing now. Because all they’re doing now is they’re unnecessarily damaging the credibility and respectability of an organization, or an institution — the Supreme Court — that is very, very important for upholding the rule of law.”
Listen to parts one and two of the Maine Wire Podcast with Leonard Leo below: