ProPublica continues hammering away at investigating Clarence Thomas and his eyebrow-raising social life amongst some of the country's wealthiest activist conservatives, and now they've uncovered at least two donor events hosted by the Koch Brothers in recent years that Thomas attended — all while the Kochs and their advocacy group Stand Together have had cases before the Supreme Court.
In what may be a far more egregious violation of judicial ethics than previously reported-on, undisclosed gifts from billionaire pal Harlan Crow, ProPublica has found that Thomas has been flown in on private jets to attend fundraising events for Stand Together in Palm Springs. This includes an event in January 2018 attended by dozens of wealthy people whom the Koch Brothers were trying to court to their cause of swinging American democracy and legal precedent further to the right.
The ties between the Koch organization and the activities of the Supreme Court are many. Specifically, another of the Kochs' groups, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, won a case before the court in 2021 in which Thomas voted with the conservative majority, overturning a California law that required nonprofits to disclose the names of donors.
And Koch network attorneys are also reportedly involved with this case coming before the court this term, which could upend decades of precedent regarding the limits of federal agencies powers — a cause célèbre among libertarians like the Kochs. (David Koch died in 2019 at age 79, and Charles Koch, 87, remains ranked the 20th wealthiest person in the world, with a net worth estimated at $62 billion.)
While Supreme Court Justices remain a self-policing group when it comes to ethics, under current regulations, the revelation that Thomas may have participated in fundraising events directly related to the Kochs' legal activism, which has direct ties to cases before the high court, is astonishing. Like the previous revelations about gifts Thomas received from Harlan Crow, including private jet and yacht trips and real estate in Georgia, Thomas did not disclose who paid for his trips to the Palm Springs events.
A spokesperson for Stand Together gave a statement to ProPublica saying, "The idea that attending a couple events to promote a book or give dinner remarks, as all the justices do, could somehow be undue influence just doesn’t hold water," and "Thomas wasn’t present for fundraising conversations."
The statement adds, "All of the sitting Justices and many who came before them have contributed to the national dialogue in speeches, book tours, and social gatherings. Our events are no different. To claim otherwise is false."
But retired federal judge John E. Jones III, a George W. Bush appointee, tells ProPublica that Thomas should have no excuse for this type of direct conflict of interest.
"I can’t imagine — it takes my breath away, frankly — that he would go to a Koch network event for donors," Jones said. "What you’re seeing is a slow creep toward unethical behavior. Do it if you can get away with it." Jones added that if any federal district judge did the same thing, they would be the subject of immediate disciplinary proceedings.
Thomas's connection to the Koch Brothers may date back to the beginning of his attendance at the annual Bohemian Grove retreat in Sonoma County — and his travel there has reportedly been paid for in the past by Crow. According to ProPublica sources, when Thomas is at Bohemian Grove, he and Crow have shared a small camp with the Kochs.
One attendee, who recalls seeing Justice Thomas at the Grove, tells ProPublica, "I was taken with how comfortable he was in that environment and how popular. He holds court there."
The 2,700-acre, all-male private retreat, connected to the SF-based Bohemian Club, dates back to the 1890s, and the club purchased the property in 1899. Over the years it has played host to politicians and dignitaries of many stripes, and infamously it was the site of a private meeting between J. Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and the S-1 Executive Committee in September 1942, who laid the groundwork for the Manhattan Project to produce the first atomic bomb.
The Grove has attracted intrigue over the years and occasional media attention, though all media reports that have been done from inside were done under false pretenses — and the Bohemian Club has even prosecuted journalists for trespassing.
Conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones have also seized on the place as a likely location for wealthy elites' ritual Satanic sacrifices — when in reality it is more just like a drunken frat party for (mostly) old men with some old-timey theatricals thrown in.
As ProPublica reports, the annual Koch organization's events in January in the Coachella Valley are similarly secretive, and "One recent attendee recalled Koch security staff in a golf cart escorting their Uber driver out of the hotel to make sure he left."
Despite Charles Koch having plenty of money to throw around on his own, Stand Together has been his way to rally other extremely rich people to the cause of decimating all government regulation. Attendees at the event have to have given a minimum of $100,000 per year.
An anonymous former staffer of the Kochs tells ProPublica that Thomas has attended at least one dinner with the highest-level donors, and spoke about his judicial philosophy. "These donors found it fascinating," the former employee said. "Donors want to feel special. They want to feel on the inside."
Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo arranged the appearance by Thomas, and Leo gave a statement to ProPublica saying, "Justice Thomas attends events all over the country, as do all the Justices, and I was privileged to join him. All the necessary due diligence was performed to ensure the Justice’s attendance at the events was compliant with all ethics requirements."
Thomas's attendance at Koch events in Palm Springs seems to date back all the way to 2008 — though when this was revealed in 2010, the Supreme Court press office reportedly tried to downplay it, saying that Thomas had been in the area and spoke at a Federalist Society event.
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