Alito Benefactor Leonard Leo Sees Funding Drop From Donor Fund

(Bloomberg) -- A top source of funding for conservative groups — including some connected to legal activist Leonard Leo — escalated giving by 27% in 2022, according to tax records.

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But groups with ties to Leo, including the Federalist Society and the 85 Fund’s Honest Elections Project, collectively received far less than the previous year, according to the tax records from DonorsTrust Inc.

DonorsTrust raised $303 million, a 72% drop from the year before, but still increased giving to $242 million — up $52 million from a year prior, according to its 2022 tax filing obtained by Bloomberg News. The names of its contributors aren’t required to be disclosed, but the more than 1,100 recipients of its largess are.

The 85 Fund, part of Leo’s network of nonprofit organizations and a major source of conservative philanthropy, received just $50,000 for its Honest Elections Project, which advocates for more restrictive voting laws. That amount was down drastically from the $17.1 million the 85 Fund received in 2021. A representative for the 85 Fund did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

The decline in funding came well before questions arose regarding the ethics of two conservative members of the Supreme Court and benefactors, including Leo and billionaire Harlan Crow. ProPublica reported in April that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose private jet trips, lodging and other gifts he received over the years from Crow, touching off a major examination of the ethics and potential conflicts of interest of members of the court.

A trip Leo arranged in 2008 involving travel on a private jet for Justice Samuel Alito also came under scrutiny. Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee probing the nation’s highest court considered issuing subpoenas to Leo and Crow, but have faced opposition from Republican members of the panel.

Read More: Supreme Court Rules Depart From Ethics Code for Other Judges

The Federalist Society, an organization co-chaired by Leo, received $4.3 million in 2022 from DonorsTrust, up slightly from $3.7 million the year before. Former President Donald Trump said he consulted the group, which has close ties to Thomas and Alito, when drawing up lists of potential Supreme Court nominees.

Lawson Bader, president and chief executive officer of DonorsTrust, says the organization is dedicated to preserving philanthropic freedom for donors. “People of good faith hold different deeply held beliefs on a variety of issues,” he adds, “and have different philanthropic strategies and interests in addressing those issues.”

Donation Rules

DonorsTrust is a donor-advised fund, which means donors can set aside money to claim an immediate tax deduction but distribute donations to charity later. The organization is barred from engaging in partisan activities, but some of the groups it supports have had an out-sized, if indirect, influence on politics.

The largest donation to the group was $92 million, and there were several other multi-million-dollar gifts. It also received donations in the form of stocks, including 650,000 shares of Uber Technologies Inc., valued at $15.5 million. DonorsTrust says it has about 450 donors. It ended 2022 with $1.4 billion in assets.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a biomedical research foundation on Long Island received the largest grant, at $14.5 million. One donor moved $12.7 million to an account at Bradley Impact Fund, another donor-advised fund for conservatives. Consumers’ Research Inc., a group focused on attacking environment, social and governance investment strategies, received $9 million.

Other grantees include longstanding conservative policy organizations like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation as well as the America First Policy Institute, established in 2021 to advance policies developed during the Trump administration.

The fund also supports right-leaning news and commentary with the American Spectator Foundation, the Center for American Greatness, the National Review Institute and the Reason Foundation, publisher of Reason magazine, all receiving grants. Conservative watchdog groups like Americans for Public Trust and the Foundation for Government Accountability also got money.

Universities, churches and humane societies also received money. They include Hillsdale and Patrick Henry Colleges, which are admired in conservative circles.

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