A few months ago, ThinkProgress launched a series of investigations into relationship of the right flank of the Supreme Court — Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia — with corporate donors and Republican operatives. In October, we revealed, through a document obtained from Koch Industries, that Scalia and Thomas had attended secret right-wing fundraisers organized by Charles Koch to coordinate political strategy. ThinkProgress has now discovered more events attended by conservative Supreme Court justices.
The Manhattan Institute, funded by major corporations like CIGNA, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, is a conservative think tank in New York that produces right-wing policy papers as well as sponsoring speeches for judges and Republican politicians. In 2008, Justice Thomas headlined the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lecture; last October, Justice Alito was the headline speaker for the same event. According to the Manhattan Institute’s website, an individual must contribute between $5,000 to $25,000 to attend the Wriston Lecture. “To be invited to the Wriston Lecture,” Debbie Ezzard, a development official at the Manhattan Institute told ThinkProgress, “you have to give $5,000.”
During the question and answer period of the Wriston Lecture, Roger Hertog, a major neoconservative donor, asked Alito if he would attend the 2011 State of the Union. Ironically, Alito — while speaking at a political fundraiser filled with powerful conservative donors — said he would avoid the event because it has “become very political”:
HERTOG: My question has nothing to do with judicial philosophy. It’s a more mundane question. It’s a calendar question. Will you attend the State of the Union this year?
ALITO: I said in my talk that judges learn primarily from experience, and I’ve found the example of those with greater experience. For many years, the more senior members of the Supreme Court — Justice Stevens before he retired, Justice Scalia — stopped the practice of attending State of the Union addresses because they have become very political events and they’re very awkward for the justices. We have to sit there like the proverbial plotted plant most of the time and we’re not allowed to applaud or those of us who are more disciplined refrain from manifesting any emotion or opinion whatsoever.
Scalia, Thomas, and Alito ultimately refused to attend the SOTU last night. At the end of his question and answer period during the Wriston Lecture, Thomas pledged to the room of donors to meet with them on a more informal basis whenever they visit Washington, DC.
Notably, both Thomas and Alito were introduced at the Manhattan Institute by its chairman, Paul Singer. Singer is the manager of one of the nation’s largest hedge funds, Elliott Management, and has been one of the largest contributors to the Republican Party and conservative causes in recent years. An opponent of financial regulations, Singer’s hedge fund contributed 96% of Rep. Scott Garrett’s (R-NJ) campaign committee. Garrett is the new subcommittee chairman overseeing hedge funds, including regulations passed by Democrats last year which will affect Singer’s firm.
Singer is also a “seven figure” contributor to Crossroads GPS, a front group managed by Karl Rove that has taken advantage of the new campaign finance landscape post-Citizens United. As ThinkProgress has reported, it’s not the first time Alito or Thomas has headlined a political fundraiser with corporate donors:
– In November, shortly after his Manhattan Institute fundraising appearance, ThinkProgress interviewed Justice Alito as he entered the annual fundraising gala for the American Spectator, attended by then-RNC Chairman Michael Steele and top Republican donors. Alito told us that his attendance to the fundraiser was “not important.” However, as we noted, Alito was the main draw for donors when he headlined the same event in 2008. The American Spectator is nominally a magazine; in the 90s, it served as a slush fund for wealthy donors to pay opponents of President Clinton, and recently, it organized a lobby group called the “Conservative Action Project” to orchestrate opposition to President Obama.
– In 2009, while the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the Citizens United case, Justice Thomas was featured at the annual fundraiser for the Heritage Foundation — and sat at a table for donors with investment banker Thomas Saunders and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). After the Citizens United decision, Heritage created a new nonprofit called “Heritage Action” to run attack ads against Democrats.
– In 2009, while the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the Citizens United case, Justice Alito headlined a fundraiser for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) — the same corporate front that funded the rise of Republican dirty trickster James O’Keefe and anti-masturbation activist Christine O’Donnell. According to the sponsorship levels for the event, Alito helped ISI raise $70,000 or more from law firms like Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP. ISI is run partially by lobbyist James Burnley, who also is on the board of FreedomWorks.
– Last year, Justice Thomas helped headline a fundraiser for the National Association of Broadcasters, a lobby group representing News Corp, Cox Media Group, and other media companies. The event raised hundreds of thousands for NAB’s charity from a host of corporate sponsors, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, PhRMA, and CBS Corp.
Pursuant to our reporting, the good government group Common Cause found that Thomas had also failed to report more than $686,000 in income from his wife on his ethics disclosure forms. Monday evening, Thomas filed letters with the Supreme Court amending the gap in disclosure.