Leonard Leo moves from judicial to advocacy to counter woke culture


He participated in the overhaul of the Supreme Court. Now Leonard Leo, a driving force behind President Trump’s judicial picks, is aiming for broader culture war battles over “woke” politics.

And he’s sitting on a pile of cash to do it.

Mr. Leo’s Marble Freedom Trust received what is believed to be the largest donation in political history: a $1.6 billion gift from Chicago businessman Barre Seid. The money, first reported by The New York Times this summer, has sent shockwaves through liberal activists as conservatives race to hammer out proposals to try to get in on Mr Leo’s action .

Mr Leo said he was eager to see what he could do beyond the courtroom.

“The conservative legal movement has had a significant impact on our legal culture, resulting in a much higher level of adherence to the Constitution and traditional legal principles,” Leo told The Washington Times in a statement. “I hope the infrastructure and talent networks we are building now will have a similar impact in other areas of American life, far beyond the law.”

Mr. Leo has spent nearly three decades leading The Federalist Society, a center-right group that promotes itself as a forum for discussing the major legal issues of the day. Critics say it’s at the heart of a rightward shift in federal courts.

He took time off to work with the Bush administration to secure confirmation from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., then worked first with candidate Donald Trump and later with President Trump to shape his judicial choices.

He helped Mr. Trump compile the list of potential judicial nominees the campaign released in 2016, solidifying pro-life and other conservative supporters and helping propel the political newcomer to an unlikely White House victory. .

Mr. Leo then helped Mr. Trump install three High Court justices and fill the lower courts with dozens of conservatives – many of whom were members of the Federalist Society.

This record of success has far-left activists worried about what Mr Leo could do with the more than $1 billion at his disposal.

Elliot Mincberg, senior fellow at People for the American Way, disagreed with Mr Leo on the policy, but said he was an “incredibly influential political figure”.

“Well recognized, but quiet power – and I think that’s what he was able to achieve,” Mr Mincberg said. “It’s a huge achievement for Leo, I have to admit that.”

Meanwhile, a Tory operative said Mr Leo had been besieged by demands from centre-right groups keen to dip into the Marble Freedom Trust’s new deep pockets.

Conservative activists are delighted with an influx of money to help counter billionaire liberal backers such as George Soros, who influenced political discourse in the United States by funding liberal organizations with millions of dollars to support the left-wing democrats.

Not all praise Mr. Leo. One said he is “hogging” the money and stagnating the Conservative movement.

Few public details are available of Marble Freedom Trust, in part due to its organization as a trust rather than a corporation.

Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said Mr Leo likes to work behind the scenes so as not to be “the story”.

“He does not operate to gain recognition or personal attention, but to have an impact,” Mr. Shapiro said. “He’s friendly, he’s smart, he’s efficient.”

It is this combination of low profile and exceptional success that worries liberal activists.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has long harassed the Federalist Society and Mr Leo with accusations of improprieties over so-called black money – funds that find their way into political activism and advocacy bypassing disclosure restrictions that apply to campaign money.

After news broke of the financial windfall from the Marble Freedom Trust, the Rhode Island Democrat expressed fear over Mr Leo’s new litter.

“Leo’s Dark Money Web Funds Voter Suppression and Misinformation, False ‘Critical Race Theory’ Arguments, and Attacks on President Biden’s Candidates. Expect to see a lot more now,” Mr. Whitehouse said in a Twitter post.

Accountable.US, which markets itself as a nonpartisan watchdog group, also focuses on Mr. Leo’s finances.

He released a report this month showing a dozen groups that benefited from Mr. Leo’s deep pockets. The group said its report was part of a new project to monitor influence and “uncover the relationships between powerful right-wing organizations and the influential mega-donors who fund them”.

“As the country prepares for the start of a perilous and uncertain new term on the Supreme Court, Leonard Leo and his ultra-wealthy backers who have poured billions into his network of right-wing fringe groups are eagerly awaiting the return on their investments – high court rulings that erode our democracy and favor the privileged few over ordinary Americans,” said Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US. “We cannot allow Leo groups to dictate the public policy in the shadows.”

Complaints are nothing new to Mr. Leo. The New York Times said he was involved in more than half a billion dollars in politically charged activities from 2015 to 2021.

The Fair Elections Project is part of Mr Leo’s advocacy vine and is involved in the High Court’s Moore v Harper case, which is due to be heard in December.

The case involves an election challenge in North Carolina, where a state court struck down the congressional map drawn by lawmakers. The Republican-controlled legislature says state courts should crush. They point to a clause in the Constitution that says “the times, places, and manner ‘of electing members of Congress’ shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.”

The Fair Elections Project filed a brief with the Supreme Court, supporting the arguments of North Carolina Republican lawmakers.

Other groups within Mr. Leo’s network include the Judicial Crisis Network and The 85 Fund, CRC Advisors and the BH Group, which are conservative public relations and advisory organizations.

Consumers’ Research, which has helped lead efforts against “environmental, social and governance” initiatives aimed at green corporate policies, is also part of Mr. Leo’s affiliation.

Marble Freedom Trust should support outfits that fight against critical race theory and the spread of “woke” culture in business and politics. Groups that receive money are likely to cover a range of activism, including organizing events, running advertisements and wrestling in the media.


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