Washington, D.C. officials have opened an investigation into conservative kingpin and dark money maestro Leonard Leo, who was recently launched into the spotlight over his vast influence on U.S. politics, especially with regard to recent scandals surrounding Supreme Court justices.
The exact focus of the investigation is unclear, but Politico pointed out that it comes after the publication reported in March that Leo’s personal wealth seems to have skyrocketed after one of his nonprofits paid tens of millions of dollars to a for-profit company headed by Leo, called CRC Advisors, over the course of two years. Experts said that the revelations were questionable, raising concerns that Leo used money raised by his nonprofits to personally enrich himself.
The report was shortly followed by a complaint by Campaign for Accountability filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the D.C. attorney general. The watchdog group detailed that Leo’s non-profit groups had diverted over $73 million over six years to Leo’s for-profit businesses — transactions that the group said warranted further investigation by government officials for potential abuse of the nonprofits’ tax-exempt status for personal gain.
Advocates have praised the launch of the investigation, saying that it’s crucial to scrutinize Leo in order to expose his colossal influence over the political system — and to lend insights into the impacts of dark money and corruption that Leo has helped stoke.
Leo “believes that unless he writes the rules, they don’t apply to him. While his handpicked justices are stripping Americans of their rights and brazenly violating ethics rules, Leo is cashing in on his activism,” said Lizzy Price, senior director of strategic partnerships for watchdog group Accountable.US, in a press call this week. “Whether it’s the American judiciary or his own network of conservative organizations, Leo’s disdain for ethics is constant.”
Around the time these transactions ramped up — and as Leo began working closely with conservative politicians to manipulate the judicial system in the past decade — Leo’s personal wealth began to balloon. In 2018, Leo paid off a 30-year mortgage on his house in Mclean, Virginia; later that year, he bought an 11-bedroom house in an affluent town in Maine for $3.3 million, which he fully paid off the next year. Then, in 2021, he bought a second house in the same town, Mount Desert, for $1.65 million.
Mount Desert is a rich seaside village that serves as a “haven for a number of heirs to Gilded Age oil, industrial and banking barons like the Rockefellers and Morgans,” Politico detailed in its March report.
In the same few years, Leo-affiliated nonprofits funneled nearly $35 million in consulting fees to CRC Advisors and $15 million in consulting fees to BH Group, a for-profit business partly owned by Leo that doesn’t even have a website or advertisements for its supposed consulting services.
As Leo was massively expanding his real estate portfolio, the Trump administration nominated three far right Supreme Court justices who were hand-picked by Leo, after Leo and his dark money network helped to block President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland.
The news of the probe also comes after Leo was named as a major figure in several scandals surrounding the Supreme Court, with reports revealing that he had arranged payments to Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas, prior to a key voting rights Supreme Court case, and that he appears to have close personal ties with Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito.
Though Leo has faced scrutiny from advocates and the media, he has thus far largely escaped legal scrutiny. Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee requested that Leo send a full accounting of gifts he had given to Supreme Court justices. But Leo was recalcitrant in the face of the request, responding via his lawyer that it was unconstitutional for Congress to ask Leo about his influence over the Supreme Court.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), who has been criticizing Leo for years, said that the D.C. probe could uncover a wide range of improprieties. “Digging into this mess could reveal a mother lode of corruption,” Whitehouse wrote.
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