A little known conservative group headed by a leader in Republicans’ years-long campaign to pack the Supreme Court got an astonishing $1.6 billion donation last year, new reporting reveals. This is likely the largest-ever donation from a single donor to a political nonprofit.
The New York Times reported on Monday that electronics mogul and billionaire Barre Seid donated 100 percent of his shares in his electronic device manufacturing company, Tripp Lite, to the group in 2021 — just before Tripp Lite was sold to a foreign company for $1.65 billion, tax records show. In all, the donation is worth more than the amount that the 15 most politically active Democratically aligned nonprofits spent in all of 2020, according to a Times analysis.
The donation will likely help to fund Republican efforts for years to come as the party openly embraces fascism. ProPublica has pointed out that the amount of money given by Seid puts him on the level of major political influences like the Koch brothers, and is an emblem of the huge amounts of money that individuals can infuse into the political system thanks to Citizens United.
The recipient of the donation is a dark money group known as Marble Freedom Trust, the existence of which has previously been unreported, and the purpose of which outside of political engagement is largely unknown. But the group’s leader could provide a clue: Marble Freedom is headed by notorious conservative court-packer Leonard Leo, former vice president of the ultra-conservative, Koch-funded Federalist Society.
Though Leo’s name is not widely known among the public, he is one of the most influential figures behind conservatives’ efforts to engineer and pack the Supreme Court, and has aided in the appointing of every single sitting far right Supreme Court justice — the same far right justices behind the revocation of federal abortion rights.
Groups in Leo’s network also had a hand in blocking the appointment of Barack Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas once joked in 2018 that Leo is “the number three most powerful person in the world.”
Leo is also a huge force behind the confirmation of presidential judge appointees outside of the Supreme Court. During his time as an adviser to Donald Trump, Leo helped the former president appoint and confirm over 200 federal judicial appointees, according to ProPublica.
Seid’s donation has nearly quadrupled the amount of funds at Leo’s disposal in his work managing dark money funds. Indeed, when contacted about the donation, Leo told The New York Times that “it’s high time” for the political right to have the funding to combat left-wing philanthropists “to defend our constitution and its ideals.”
Because of the Marble Freedom Trust’s status as a 501(c)4 nonprofit — which makes it a “social welfare” group that’s exempt from taxes — the group is allowed to spend money on political advocacy and can directly spend money on elections.
The group’s categorization is also financially expedient for Seid, because it allowed him and the organization to structure the transaction so that Seid could avoid paying taxes on the sale of the company. “These actions by the super wealthy are actually costing the American taxpayers to support the political spending of the wealthiest Americans,” Ray Madoff, a professor of tax law at Boston College, told the Times.
Seid has spent the last decades quietly donating to conservative causes, including the distribution of an Islamophobic film during the 2008 presidential campaign to households in battleground states. Little is known about Seid’s political advocacy, and he has taken lengths to keep quiet about his conservatism, though some watchdogs have said that he was behind a $20 million donation to George Mason University to rename its law school to the Antonin Scalia Law School.