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Context of 'February 4, 2011: Wife of Supreme Court Justice Named Head of Lobbying and Political Consulting Firm, Critics Say Position Creates Conflict of Interest'

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The US Supreme Court issues a ruling in Bush v. Gore (see December 11, 2000) that essentially declares George W. Bush (R-TX) the winner of the Florida presidential election, and thusly the winner of the US presidential election (see Mid-to-Late November 2000). The decision in Bush v. Gore is so complex that the Court orders that it not be used as precedent in future decisions. The 5-4 decision is split along ideological lines, with Justices Sandra Day O’Connor (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000)) and Anthony Kennedy, two “moderate conservatives,” casting the deciding votes. In the per curium opinion, the Court finds: “Because it is evident that any recount seeking to meet the Dec. 12 date will be unconstitutional… we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida ordering the recount to proceed.… It is obvious that the recount cannot be conducted in compliance with the requirements of equal protection and due process without substantial additional work.” The decision says that the recounts as ordered by the Florida Supreme Court suffer from constitutional problems (see December 7-8, 2000). The opinion states that differing vote-counting standards from county to county and the lack of a single judicial officer to oversee the recount violate the equal-protection clause of the Constitution. The majority opinion effectively precludes Vice President Al Gore from attempting to seek any other recounts on the grounds that a recount could not be completed by December 12, in time to certify a conclusive slate of electors. The Court sends the case back to the Florida Supreme Court “for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.” Four justices issue stinging dissents. Justice John Paul Stevens writes: “One thing… is certain. Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.” Justice Stephen G. Breyer adds that “in this highly politicized matter, the appearance of a split decision runs the risk of undermining the public’s confidence in the court itself.” [Per Curiam (Bush et al v. Gore et al), 12/12/2000; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008]
Drafting Opinions - After oral arguments concluded the day before, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said that if they were to remand the case back to Florida, that order must go out immediately in light of the approaching deadline for certification of results; Stevens quickly wrote a one-paragraph opinion remanding the case back to Florida and circulated it, though with no real hope that it would be adopted. The five conservative justices are determined to reverse the Florida decision. For the rest of the evening and well into the next day, December 12, the justices work on their opinions. Stevens prepares the main dissent, with the other three liberal justices preparing their own concurrences. Stevens and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg find no support whatsoever for the equal-protection argument, and say so in their writings. Justices Breyer and David Souter give the idea some weight; Souter says that the idea of uniform standards is a good one, but these standards should be created and imposed by the Florida judiciary or legislature. Stopping the recounts solves nothing, he writes. It soon becomes apparent that neither Kennedy nor O’Connor share Rehnquist’s ideas on the jurisdiction of the Florida court, and will not join him in that argument. Kennedy writes the bulk of the majority opinion; as predicted, his opinion focuses primarily on the equal-protection clause of the Constitution. The liberal justices and clerks find Kennedy’s reasoning that stopping the recounts is the only way to ensure equal protection entirely unconvincing. Anthony Scalia circulates a sealed memo complaining about the tone of some of the dissents, asking that the dissenters not call into question the Court’s credibility. (His memo prompts Ginsburg to remove a footnote from her dissent commenting on Florida’s disenfranchised African-American voters; some of the liberal clerks see the incident as Ginsburg being bullied into compliance by Scalia. Subsequent investigations show that thousands of legitimate African-Americans were indeed disenfranchised—see November 7, 2000.) Kennedy sends a memo accusing the dissenters of “trashing the Court,” and says that the dissenters actually agree with his equal-protection argument far more than they want to admit. When he has a line inserted into his opinion reading, “Eight Justices of the Court agree that there are constitutional problems with the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court that demand a remedy,” some of Stevens’s clerks angrily telephone Kennedy’s clerks and accuse them of misrepresenting Stevens’s position. They demand that the line be removed. Kennedy refuses, and Stevens rewrites his opinion so that he is no longer associated with the position. Kennedy is forced to rewrite the statement to say that “seven,” not “eight” justices agree with his position. One of Stevens’s clerks, Eduardo Penalver, tells Kennedy clerk Grant Dixton that what Kennedy had done was disgusting and unprofessional. Breyer and his clerks are also unhappy about Kennedy’s assertion, but take no action. The line prompts many in the media to claim, falsely, that the decision is a 7-2 split and not a 5-4. The main document, a short unsigned opinion halting the recounts, is written by Kennedy. Two portions are particularly notable: Kennedy’s assertion that the ruling applies only to Bush, and not to future decisions; and that the Court had only reluctantly accepted the case. “That infuriated us,” one liberal clerk later recalls. “It was typical Kennedy bullsh_t, aggrandizing the power of the Court while ostensibly wringing his hands about it.” Rehnquist, Scalia, and Justice Clarence Thomas join the decision, though Scalia is unimpressed with Kennedy’s writing and reasoning. Reportedly, he later calls it a “piece of sh_t,” though he will deny making the characterization.
Lack of Consensus - The lack of consensus between the conservative justices is relatively minor. Among the four liberal justices, though, it is quite pronounced—though all four wish not to end the recounts, only Stevens has a strong position and has stayed with it throughout the process. Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer were far less certain of their opposition, and resultingly, their dissents, unlike the impassioned Stevens dissent, are relatively pallid. Some of the liberal clerks say that the four’s lack of consensus helped the solid conservative majority stay solid: “They gave just enough cover to the five justices and their defenders in the press and academia so that it was impossible to rile up the American people about these five conservative ideologues stealing the election.”
Final Loss - Gore, reading the opinion, finally realizes that he and his campaign never had a chance with the five conservative justices, though they had hoped that either O’Connor or Kennedy would join the four liberals (see (November 29, 2000)). He congratulates his legal team, led by David Boies, and commends it for making it so difficult for the Court to justify its decision. Some reports will circulate that Souter is depressed over the decision, with Newsweek reporting that he later tells a group of Russian judges that the decision was “the most outrageous, indefensible thing” the Court had ever done. He also reportedly says that had he had “one more day,” he could have convinced Kennedy to turn. However, Souter will deny the reports, and those who know him will say that such comments would be out of character for him. For her part, O’Connor will express surprise that anyone could be angry over the decision. As for Scalia, some Court observers believe that his open partisanship during the process will cost him any chance he may have had to be named chief justice. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: David Souter, William Rehnquist, David Boies, Anthony Kennedy, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, Florida Supreme Court, John Paul Stevens, Grant Dixton, Sandra Day O’Connor, Eduardo Penalver

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), the head of the “astroturf” organization FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), leaves his position as senior policy adviser for the Washington lobbying firm DLA Piper. Armey says he is leaving because of the negative press attention FreedomWorks is garnering, including “unwarranted” accusations that it is organizing “grassroots” citizen protests against health care reform on behalf of DLA Piper’s clients. In an interview, he says: “The firm [DLA Piper] is busy with its business, and shouldn’t be asked to take time out from their work, to defend themselves of spurious allegations. No client of this firm is going to be free to mind its own business without harassment as long as I’m associated with it.” DLA Piper chairman Frank Burch says that the decision for Armey to leave is mutual. In his statement, Armey adds: “It is painful and frustrating to see a good, decent, able, and effective partnership of honorable men and women and their clients attacked for things in which they are not involved simply because of their association with me. One would expect a higher degree of competence and professionalism from members of the media than spurious attacks on innocent bystanders.… Let me be perfectly clear about DLA Piper. It is a fine firm with good, competent people. It has been my privilege to be associated with them and I will miss them. I am leaving the firm with regret but also with anticipation of being more fully engaged in the nation’s struggle [against health care reform] and without having attacks on me being directed at others.” Armey says he will now focus all of his efforts on FreedomWorks: “It is imperative for me, within the context of my life’s work in the defense of personal liberty against the encroachments of big government, to give my undivided attention to the work we do at FreedomWorks. In short, the threat to personal liberty in America is so serious and imminent at this time that it requires the full commitment of my efforts. While I consider it a personal sacrifice to leave DLA Piper, it is a sacrifice I must make in light of the important work I am committed to at FreedomWorks.” [Politico, 8/14/2009; TPM Muckraker, 8/14/2009]

Entity Tags: FreedomWorks, Dick Armey, DLA Piper, Frank Burch

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, political activist Virginia Thomas.Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, political activist Virginia Thomas. [Source: Associated Press]In November 2009, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a former Republican campaign operative and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, establishes a new “tea party” organization she calls Liberty Central. (Some media sources claim that Liberty Central begins operations in January 2010.) She describes the group as intended to bridge the gap between the conservative Republican establishment and the anti-government tea party movement. “I am an ordinary citizen from Omaha, Nebraska, who just may have the chance to preserve liberty along with you and other people like you,” she says at a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) discussion with tea party leaders in Washington. “I adore all the new citizen patriots who are rising up across this country. I have felt called to the front lines with you, with my fellow citizens, to preserve what made America great.” She also says she started the group because of her reaction to what she calls President Obama’s “hard-left agenda.” The group also intends to work to elect Republicans and defeat Democrats, and provide political strategies and “talking points” for conservative candidates. [Los Angeles Times, 3/14/2010; Commission, 7/1/2010; Politico, 7/6/2010; Politico, 2/4/2011] In May 2010, the organization officially declares itself open for business, launching a $27,000 Web site, and touting partnerships with a number of prominent conservative groups and the backing of prominent conservatives such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Federalist Society executive Leonard Leo, whom Justice Thomas has called “my good friend.” [Politico, 7/6/2010]
Questions of Conflict of Interest, Ethics - Almost immediately, legal ethicists assert that Virginia Thomas’s role as the head of a partisan, openly political advocacy organization could taint her husband’s impartiality, especially in light of the Citizens United Court decision, in which her husband sided with the 5-4 majority (see January 21, 2010), that allows her group to accept donations and spend them without publicly disclosing information about them. The group could have benefited from the Court’s decision, and Justice Thomas’s decision could be seen as being influenced by his wife’s decision to start the group. Law school professor Lucas A. “Scot” Powe, a Court historian, says, “I think the American public expects the justices to be out of politics.” The expectations for spouses are not so clear, he adds, saying, “I really don’t know because we’ve never seen it.” Legal ethicist Stephen Gillers, another law professor, says, “We expect the justice to make decisions uninfluenced by the political or legal preferences of his or her spouse.” Moreover, the press learns that while the Court was deliberating the Citizens United case, Liberty Central received an anonymous $550,000 donation. Government watchdog organization Common Cause wrote a letter to the Justice Department asking if Justice Thomas should recuse himself from the case, and wrote that “the complete lack of transparency of Liberty Central’s finances makes it difficult to assess the full scope of the ethics issues raised by Ms. Thomas’s role in founding and leading the group.” (The media later learns that $500,000 of the anonymous $550,000 donation for the organization comes from Dallas real estate investor Harlan Crow, who also hosts a fundraising event for the organization at his home. Crow once gave Justice Thomas a $19,000 “Frederick Douglass Bible” as a gift, and donated $150,000 to build a new wing named for Justice Thomas on a Savannah, Georgia, library that he visited frequently in his youth.) Common Cause also notes that Justice Thomas had failed to report on his financial disclosure filings his wife’s income over the last 13 years, prompting him to file amendments to the filings that indicated the sources, but not the amounts, of his wife’s income. Justice Thomas refuses to recuse himself from the case.
Period of Success - Liberty Central flourishes for a brief time, with Virginia Thomas assembling a veteran staff and forging relationships with conservative donors, with most of whom she and her husband had long, close relationships. Carl Graham of the Montana Policy Institute, one of the over 30 state and national tea party groups that are listed as partners in Liberty Central’s affiliate network, says, “Her association with Justice Thomas clearly provides a level of credibility that others wouldn’t be able to have, just because of the beliefs that he has and the stands that he has on the different positions that align with our own.” Liberty Central’s connection with Justice Thomas, Graham says, “gets you to open the email, if nothing else, as opposed to some other one that you may not even open.” Liberty Central hires the services of CRC Public Relations, a prominent Washington communications firm that has garnered some $15 million in fees from a number of clients, including top Republican Party committees and the presidential campaigns or political committees of George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain, among others. Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, a tea party lobbying organization also partnered with Liberty Central (see April 14, 2009 and April 15, 2009), says, “Ginni was able to raise the seed capital to have a real launch” because of her connections in small-government conservative circles. Kibbe says most people are unaware that she is the wife of a Supreme Court justice. Tea Party Patriots leader Jenny Beth Martin calls Thomas a “mentor” for many tea party organizations, and says she helps these organizations “to navigate some of the waters in DC.… She’s been kind of a mentor, and when we had questions about things that we were doing, we bounced a few of the ideas off of her and also off of a few other people in DC just to make sure that what we were doing made sense.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/14/2010; Politico, 7/6/2010; Politico, 2/4/2011]
Media Attention - In a June 2010 interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Thomas says she is sure “liberals” will “persecute” her just as she says they did when her husband was undergoing confirmation for the Supreme Court. “They’re after me now sometimes,” she says. “And so, we’re not going to be dissuaded. We are in the fight for our country’s life.” She and Hannity engage in a lively conversation about the “tyranny” of the Obama administration. She also promises to “watch for conflicts” between herself and her husband. In October 2010, the media reports that Virginia Thomas leaves a voice mail for former college professor Anita Hill, who accused her husband of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings for the Court (see October 8, 1991, October 8-12, 1991, and October 11-12, 1991), demanding that Hill issue an apology to her husband. The voice mail says: “Good morning, Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas. I just want to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometimes and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. Okay, have a good day.” The attention from the voice mail prompts more negative media attention, and some donors begin distancing themselves from the organization. (Virginia Thomas later admits that her voice mail message for Hill was “probably a mistake,” though she will call the media’s response to it “laughable.” She will call the message “an olive branch” she extends to Hill. For her part, Hill says: “I don’t apologize. I have no intention of apologizing and I stand by my testimony in 1991.”) [Los Angeles Times, 3/14/2010; Fox News, 6/8/2010; Politico, 7/6/2010; Politico, 10/19/2010; Washington Post, 11/15/2010]
Thomas Steps Down, Group Merges with Another Organization - In November 2010, Virginia Thomas steps down from her leadership post at Liberty Central. The group then merges with another, similar group called the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, an organization founded by ex-CIA agent Gary Aldrich, who wrote a largely discredited book “exposing” the “secrets” of the Clinton administration. Sources later tell reporters that Virginia Thomas sells off Liberty Central because it cannot raise the funds needed to support its large staff and high overhead. According to CRC spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll, Thomas will “take a back seat so that Liberty Central can continue with its mission without any of the distractions. After discussing it with the board, Mrs. Thomas determined that it was best for the organization.” However, Sarah E. Field, general counsel of Liberty Central, disagrees, saying: “There are many opportunities being presented to Liberty Central, but there is no agreement at this time.… The sources of this story appear to be people without full understanding of the facts.” Keith Appell of CRC tells a reporter that the Washington Post’s Amy Gardner “breached confidentiality” by reporting her conversation with Carroll. Gardner responds, “Everything I attributed to Caitlin Carroll comes from an on-the-record conversation we had by telephone this morning.” Within hours, Thomas files incorporation papers for a new political lobbying and consulting firm, Liberty Consulting (see February 4, 2011). [Politico, 7/6/2010; Politico, 11/15/2010; Washington Post, 11/15/2010; Politico, 2/4/2011]

Entity Tags: Lucas A. (“Scot”) Powe, Liberty Central, US Department of Justice, Matt Kibbe, Leonard Leo, Obama administration, US Supreme Court, Sean Hannity, Virginia (“Ginni”) Thomas, Keith Appell, Stephen Gillers, Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, Jenny Beth Martin, Sarah E. Field, Gary Aldrich, Barack Obama, Anita Hill, Amy Gardner, CRC Public Relations, Caitlin Carroll, Harlan Crow, Clarence Thomas, FreedomWorks, Carl Graham, Donald Rumsfeld, Common Cause, Conservative Political Action Conference

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The press reports that the US Chamber of Commerce and other lobbying organizations are the biggest winners in the controversial Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court (see January 21, 2010), which allows corporations and labor unions to spend unrestricted amounts of money in support of, or opposition to, federal candidates. The Chamber of Commerce spends more on promoting Republican and conservative candidates than almost any other organization outside of the Republican Party itself. Other trade organizations, which tend to support Republicans, will almost certainly up their spending on behalf of their candidates, or in opposition to Democrats, according to experts interviewed by reporters, as will most corporations.
Unrestrained Spending to Favor Republicans - Democratic lawyer Marc Elias says: “It is a sweeping decision. In one opinion, the Court struck down all bans on corporate independent spending.” GOP lawyer Robert Kelner says that the ruling “will reflect a huge sea-change in campaign finance law. The Court went all the way. It really relieves any restrictions on corporate spending on independent advertising.” Another GOP lawyer, Ben Ginsberg, says: “It’s going to be the Wild Wild West. If corporations and unions can give unlimited amounts… it means that the public debate is significantly changed with a lot more voices, and it means that the loudest voices are going to be corporations and unions.” Former Federal Elections Commission member Brad Smith says, “This case will lead to more spending, I think, in political elections.” Lawrence M. Noble, the former general counsel for the FEC, says a lobbyist can tell a candidate, “We have got a million we can spend advertising for you or against you—whichever one you want.” Political science professor Robert Watson, who has consulted with Democratic campaigns, says: “It’s a game changer. And the last thing we need is for major corporations and nonprofits to have unlimited access to buy their members of Congress.” The New York Times writes: “It is expected to unleash a torrent of attack advertisements from outside groups aiming to sway voters, without any candidate having to take the criticism for dirty campaigning. The biggest beneficiaries might be well-placed incumbents whose favor companies and interests groups are eager to court. It could also have a big impact on state and local governments, where a few million dollars can have more influence on elections.” The National Journal states: “Over the long run, the ruling is likely to favor GOPers more than it does Dems. While it does apply to unions and corporations equally, Elias said the presumption is that corporations have more money to spend.” Major corporations will not openly run their own advertising, Kelner says, but they will funnel millions into trade associations such as the Chamber of Commerce. “If people think that individual companies are going to go out and buy ads, there may be some of that, but for the most part companies are going to flow this money through trade groups and other outside groups,” Kelner says. “This will open the floodgates for money flowing through groups like the US Chamber of Commerce and other associations [that] spend money on political advertising.… There was always a cloud of doubt around outside groups and trade associations, and this lifts those clouds of doubt and leaves behind clear skies.” Former Democratic National Committee (DNC) general counsel Joe Sandler says the ruling may open the door for more attacks on incumbents by corporate and other entities eager to spend money to ease them out. “You will see more sharp-edged, candidate-specific ads on the air closer to the election,” Sandler says. “That could make it more difficult for incumbents to take tough votes in an election year.” [Palm Beach Post, 1/21/2010; National Journal, 1/21/2010; New York Times, 1/21/2010] Think Progress, the liberal news Web site affiliated with the Center for American Progress, writes, “The ruling is a giant win for the US Chamber of Commerce and the big corporations, which tend to donate heavily to Republicans.” [Think Progress, 1/22/2010]
Citizens the Real Losers? - Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center calls the ruling a complete loss for citizens, saying: “[T]he Supreme Court majority declared that corporate speech trumps the rights of American voters to government free of corporate corruption. The Court has nominally upheld campaign finance disclosure requirements applicable to corporations, but I think time will prove that those disclosure requirements are largely ineffective when dealing with contributions.” Brad Ashwell of the Florida Public Interest Research Group calls the ruling a “shocking burst of judicial activism.” Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) calls the ruling “a terrible mistake,” and says the Court “chose to roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president. Ignoring important principles of judicial restraint and respect for precedent, the Court has given corporate money a breathtaking new role in federal campaigns.” Feingold and other Congressional Democrats want to pass legislation that would curb the decision as soon as feasible. [Palm Beach Post, 1/21/2010; National Journal, 1/21/2010; New York Times, 1/21/2010]
Republicans Celebrate Victory for Free Speech, Say Decision Will 'Level Out' Spending - But Marco Rubio (R-FL), running for Florida’s open Senate seat, says, “Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a victory for those who truly value the freedoms outlined in our First Amendment.” And Republican consultant Ed Brookover, who represents Republican House candidate Allen West (R-FL), says he believes spending from liberal groups such as MoveOn.org will equal spending by corporations, and “level out” spending for the two parties. [Palm Beach Post, 1/21/2010; National Journal, 1/21/2010]
President Critical of Decision - President Obama speaks out against the decision (see January 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: Joseph Sandler, Bradley A. (“Brad”) Smith, US Supreme Court, Ed Brookover, Brad Ashwell, Ben Ginsberg, Barack Obama, Think Progress (.org), Russell D. Feingold, US Chamber of Commerce, Robert Kelner, Robert Watson, New York Times, Marc Elias, Lawrence M. Noble, Republican Party, Marco Rubio, National Journal, Paul S. Ryan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The media reports that Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a former Republican campaign operative and the former head of a tea party organization, has become the head of a lobbying and political consulting firm, Liberty Consulting. The firm boasts that Thomas’s “experience and connections” will assist clients with “governmental affairs efforts” and political donation strategies. Critics say Thomas is in the midst of an enormous conflict of interest, because her husband, Clarence Thomas, is a Supreme Court justice. She left the tea party group in November 2009 because of questions that her leadership of the group, Liberty Central, which actively worked to defeat Democrats, was not appropriate for the wife of a sitting Court justice. Thomas has met with almost half of the 99 Republican freshmen in the House and Senate, according to an email she sent out to congressional chiefs of staff last week in which she called herself “a self-appointed ambassador to the freshmen class and an ambassador to the tea party movement.” Ann Pearson of the government watchdog organization Common Cause says that Thomas’s position at a lobbying and consulting firm “show[s] a new level of arrogance of just not caring that the Court is being politicized and how that undermines the historic image of the Supreme Court as being above the political fray.… It raises additional questions about whether Justice Thomas can be unbiased and appear to be unbiased in cases dealing with the repeal of the health care reform law or corporate political spending when his wife is working to elect members of the tea party and also advocating for their policies.” Some Republican lawmakers are uncomfortable with Thomas’s new position, with one senior House Republican aide criticizing Thomas for attempting to “cash in” on her ties to the tea party movement. Republican House freshman David Schweikert (R-AZ), who won his election in part because of support from tea party groups and was endorsed by Liberty Central, says he has not met Thomas and knows nothing of her background. “This is the spouse of Justice Thomas?” he says when asked about the situation by a reporter. “No, I’ve never met her. It’s not something I’ve heard about. And I hang out with a lot of freshman.” So far, only one Republican freshman will publicly admit to scheduling a meeting with Thomas. Thomas used to be an aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), who until recently headed the tea party financing organization FreedomWorks (see August 14, 2009). She has also worked as a staffer at the US Chamber of Commerce, a trade organization that contributes heavily to Republican causes (see January 21-22, 2010), and at the conservative Heritage Foundation. In 2009 she founded Liberty Central, which she described as a group that would bridge the gap between the conservative Republican establishment and the anti-government tea party movement. She eventually stepped down after questions were raised about her position’s impact on her husband’s appearance of impartiality, and the group was merged into another tea party organization (see November 2009 - November 2010). She filed incorporation papers for Liberty Consulting within a day of news reports about her departure from Liberty Central. She has told conservative news source Daily Caller that she intends to continue working for the group that bought Liberty Central, the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, and will “help them in any way I can think of, whether it’s lobbying on the Hill or connecting with the grass roots, or helping speak or write or fundraise.” However, lobbying records show no registration for Thomas, Liberty Consulting, Liberty Central, or the Patrick Henry Center. Liberty Central general counsel Sarah Field refuses to answer questions about whether Thomas is being paid through Liberty Consulting as a consultant. A source familiar with the Thomases and with Capitol Hill Republicans says her sojourn from Liberty Central to Liberty Consulting has damaged her reputation among some conservatives. “Ginni’s reputation around town is now even more of a fake entitled woman who is only here because of her husband,” the source tells a reporter. “Now she has opened her own lobbying shop… not sure how [the] conservative circle will feel when they find that out, or if they’ll care or not.” [Politico, 2/4/2011]
Previous Conflicts of Interest - Virginia Thomas has weathered criticisms of conflict of interest before. In late 2000, as a Heritage Foundation staffer, she was helping select key members for the Bush administration even as her husband was engaged in deliberating the Bush v. Gore Court decision that installed George W. Bush as president (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). At the time she waved off criticisms, saying that she and her husband conducted “separate professional lives.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/14/2010]
'Cloud of Corruption' Surrounding Justice Thomas? - Legal analyst Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress is far more blunt in his assessment than some more cautious critics, writing: “Now, Ginni Thomas appears to have found a way to earn money off her husband’s actions as a justice. Clarence Thomas released countless amounts of corporate spending on US elections [by voting with the majority in Citizens United], and Ginni Thomas can get rich advising those corporate clients on how to direct that spending. To be sure, it is possible that Ginni is somehow limiting her advice to ‘political investments’ that were legal before Clarence gave businesses like hers so many new potential customers. But if this is the case, Ginni has an obligation to explain just how she is limiting her advice—it’s the only way to remove the obvious cloud of corruption her actions have created around her husband.” [Think Progress, 2/4/2011]

Entity Tags: Heritage Foundation, David Schweikert, Clarence Thomas, Ann Pearson, Dick Armey, George W. Bush, Sarah E. Field, FreedomWorks, Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, Virginia (“Ginni”) Thomas, Liberty Consulting, Ian Millhiser, Liberty Central, US Chamber of Commerce

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The government watchdog and campaign finance advocacy group Common Cause asks the Supreme Court to explain why Justice Clarence Thomas did not completely disclose the nature of his participation in a 2008 retreat hosted by Charles and David Koch, the influential oil billionaires and conservative advocates (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, and October 4, 2011). According to a Court spokesperson, Thomas made a “brief drop-by” at a four-day event in Palm Springs, California, held in January 2008, and gave a talk. But disclosure reports filed by Thomas show that he was reimbursed an undisclosed amount for four days of “transportation, meals, and accommodations” over the weekend of the retreat. The reimbursement came from the Federalist Society, an influential conservative legal group. Today Common Cause sends a letter to the Court asking for “further clarification” as to why the two statements are at odds. Common Cause official Arn Pearson says, “I don’t think the explanation they’ve given is credible.” If Thomas’s visit was a “four-day, all-expenses paid trip in sunny Palm Springs,” Thomas should have reported it as a gift under federal law. The Court, the Federalist Society, and Koch Industries all refuse to comment on the issue. Common Cause has said that because of Thomas’s past appearances at the Koch retreats, and the conservative political work done by his wife Virginia Thomas (see November 2009 - November 2010 and February 4, 2011), he should have recused himself from the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010). Common Cause notes that both Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia have appeared at Koch-hosted retreats. Both Thomas and Scalia voted as part of the 5-4 majority that decided the case. Political analysts say the Koch brothers have been some of the main beneficiaries of the decision. [New York Times, 2/14/2011]

Entity Tags: David Koch, Antonin Scalia, Arn Pearson, Charles Koch, Federalist Society, US Supreme Court, Virginia (“Ginni”) Thomas, Common Cause, Clarence Thomas

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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