The GOP's Dark Money Court Machine

The secretive conservative group that led Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation campaign received a $14 million donation just before the court fight.
The GOP's Dark Money Court Machine

The conservative dark money group that led the campaign to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat with Amy Coney Barrett received more than $14 million from a single mystery donor in the lead-up to the confirmation fight, according to documents obtained by The Daily Poster.

The Concord Fund is the new parent nonprofit of the Judicial Crisis Network, a secretive dark money group that has been bankrolling campaigns to install GOP judges and funding conservative advocacy campaigns around the country since 2004.

After Ginsburg’s death in September last year, the Judicial Crisis Network immediately started spending millions on ads calling on Senators to “ignore the extremists, stick to precedent, and confirm the nominee,” who had not yet been named. The group then spent millions more to support Barrett’s confirmation after former President Donald Trump selected her to replace Ginsburg.

The Concord Fund’s latest IRS tax return shows the organization raised $20.4 million between July 2019 and June 2020. While the group is not required to publicly disclose its donors, the tax return shows it received $14.3 million — nearly 70 percent of its total revenue at the time — from a single anonymous source. The group also received donations of $4 million and $1 million.

The Concord Fund is closely tied to top Trump judicial adviser Leonard Leo. In early 2020, Leo stepped away from his day-to-day role at the Federalist Society, the national conservative lawyers group, to help steer the Concord Fund. Between mid-2019 and mid-2020, the Concord Fund paid $1.6 million to a company affiliated with Leo called BH Group, LLC.

Leo and his allies rebranded the Judicial Crisis Network as the Concord Fund, turning it into a social welfare organization that fiscally sponsors other organizations. This arrangement creates additional layers of opacity, allowing a nonprofit to host or create new advocacy groups at relatively little cost that simply exist as a trade name. Judicial Crisis Network is now a fictitious name registered under the Concord Fund in Virginia.

Conservative operatives did the same thing with the Judicial Crisis Network’s charitable arm, the Judicial Education Project, renaming it the 85 Fund.

Last week, the 85 Fund and the Concord Fund registered new fictitious names, Free to Learn and Free to Learn Action. A few days later, the Free to Learn Coalition, which Fox News described as an “anti-critical race theory” organization, publicly announced that it had “launched with an initial seven-figure national ad campaign of well over $1 million advocating for classrooms independent from political influence.”

The Free to Learn Coalition’s president, Alleigh Marré, said in the press release that the group “will provide a platform and tailored resources to those ready to take on political activism by school boards and administrators.”

The Concord Fund’s tax return lists big donations to the Republican Attorneys General Association ($766,000), which elects GOP attorneys general and has pushed to restrict voting rights and overturn the 2020 election, and the Republican State Leadership Committee ($1.1 million), which helps elect GOP lawmakers to state legislatures.

The Concord Fund donated to many conservative dark money groups. The group gave $1 million to FGA Action, the social welfare arm of the Foundation for Government Accountability, which has pushed to kick millions of Americans off of food stamps.

The Concord Fund also contributed $750,000 to Stand for America, a dark money group created by former Trump ambassador and ex-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. It donated $200,000 to America One Policies, a dark money group tied to Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and $250,000 to State Solutions, the dark money arm of the Republican Governors Association.

The organization made donations to several dark money groups that pushed for Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation, including the Club for Growth ($500,000), the Susan B. Anthony List ($450,000) Article III ($167,000), America Rising Squared ($150,000), Tea Party Patriots ($150,000), Concerned Women for America ($125,000), and FRC Action ($55,000).

The Judicial Crisis Network has long been one of the darkest of dark money groups, with nearly nothing known about its donors. However, tax returns show the organization has received at least $3.2 million in recent years from the 45Committee, a dark money group linked to the billionaire Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs.

Photo credit: Stefani Reynolds/Pool via AP


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