Explosive new reporting reveals that former senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway appears to have reached a business agreement with prominent conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo in 2017 — an agreement that apparently paid off in spades for the activist when Conway advocated for President Donald Trump to nominate Supreme Court justices backed by Leo.
Politico reported on Tuesday that right-wing activist Leonard Leo had helped finance the sale of Conway’s polling company, which she sold amid questions about potential conflicts of interest, through one of his many dark money groups. The sale to firm Creative Response Concepts Inc. was worth between $1 million and $5 million, according to analyses of the sale.
Around the same time, as one of Trump’s close advisers, Conway was one of the most prominent backers of Leo’s handpicked candidates for the Supreme Court. That advocacy turned into results for Leo and his dark money network, as Trump nominees Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett were all on a list of Supreme Court candidates that Leo had prepared.
Those candidates were chosen by Leo after fears circulated among the Republican Party that Trump, who was once pro-abortion and a registered Democrat, would be less radically conservative than the party wanted. Along with Conway’s advocacy, Leo was able to shape the Supreme Court into a historically far right court that has overturned decades-old precedent to end federal abortion rights and that could further eviscerate American democracy.
If Leo did help to finance the sale of the company, as documents suggest he did, it could be a violation of ethics laws that prevent officials from personally benefiting from relationships with people in their government work. Leo and the Conway family have deep ties, as Conway’s husband is an old friend of Leo’s through their work in the Federalist Society.
The documents cache “really shows Kellyanne as a vehicle for Leo, the leading role Leo has played and how Trump became his instrument,” Center for Political Accountability President Bruce Freed told Politico.
Conservative activist and former Federalist Society vice president Leonard Leo is relatively unknown among the public, but he is one of the biggest names within right-wing activism and is arguably one of the most powerful figures in U.S. politics today.
Not only was he instrumental in the confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court picks — and in getting Barack Obama’s nomination, Merrick Garland, blocked — but he has also helped to get every other conservative sitting Supreme Court justice confirmed to the bench, and once served on the board of a group led by right-wing activist Virginia Thomas, Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife.
That the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade with Leo’s hand-picked Supreme Court conservative majority is no mistake. He has been at the center of dark money groups’ long-running anti-abortion campaigns, which have pushed millions of dollars into Republican politicians’ campaign coffers and filling state and federal judge slots; for them, the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson was a major win, decades in the making.
It’s not just abortion that Leo’s groups are involved in. Right-wing dark money groups affiliated with Leo have also funneled money into supporting organizations backing the plaintiffs in Moore v. Harper, who are arguing for a fringe legal theory that would give state legislatures sole authority over elections, allowing them to draw gerrymandered maps and pass voter suppression laws without court intervention.