Billionaire megadonors Harlan and Kathy Crow have steadily increased their political spending since they met their “very dear friends,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, conservative political activist Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, in 1996.
The Crows have treated the Thomases to private jet rides and luxury travel for more than two decades, most of which did not appear on Thomas’ financial disclosures, ProPublica reported last week. Several legal experts told ProPublica reporters that Thomas may have broken the law by not disclosing these gifts, and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee announced a hearing on Monday to “safeguard public faith in the judiciary.”
Thomas – appointed to the Supreme Court in 1991 by former President George H.W. Bush – defended his actions in a written statement.
“Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable,” Thomas wrote, saying he and his wife had joined “our dearest friends” on a number of family vacations over their 25-year friendship.
“These guidelines are now being changed, as the committee of the Judicial Conference responsible for financial disclosure for the entire federal judiciary just this past month announced new guidance. And, it is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future,” Thomas added.
Crow told ProPublica in a written statement that he and his wife “never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue” during these “gatherings of friends,” which at times included conservative legal activist Leonard Leo.
“I am unaware of any of our friends ever lobbying or seeking to influence Justice Thomas on any case, and I would never invite anyone who I believe had any intention of doing that,” Crow wrote.
While the Crows maintain they never sought to lobby or influence Thomas, the megadonor couple has significantly increased their political contributions to other officials and groups in recent election cycles. Crow – a real estate mogul who inherited his fortune from his father – and his wife publicly contributed $14.7 million to state and federal political candidates, committees and parties over the past three decades, not adjusted for inflation.
Of the $10 million the Crows contributed to federal political candidates, committees and parties over the past three decades, more than $7.6 million has come since the start of the 2016 election. More than $2.6 million of the $4.7 million the couple has contributed to state candidates, parties and committees came in the last decade, although their state-level political giving dipped during the 2022 midterm cycle to its lowest level since 2000.
The Crows’ political contributions have overwhelmingly gone to support Republicans. The megadonors have contributed a combined $245,520 to federal Democratic candidates, committees and parties since the 1990 election cycle and $166,000 to state Democrats since 1994, according to OpenSecrets data.
The National Republican Congressional Committee reported receiving more than $1.4 million from the Crows since 1990, including $184,400 during the 2022 election cycle. Congressional Leadership Fund, a hybrid PAC aligned with GOP House leadership, has received $750,000 from the Crows through the same period, including $250,000 during the 2022 midterms.
The Crows also publicly donated to political committees focused on flipping the U.S. House from Democratic to Republican control. Harlan Crow contributed $150,000 to Take Back the House 2022, a joint fundraising committee spearheaded by then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). After Republicans flipped the House in 2022, McCarthy won a contentious battle to become House Speaker after a historic 15 ballots.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee reported receiving about $1.1 million from the Crows since 1990, not adjusted for inflation. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), reported receiving $725,000 through the same period, including $350,000 during the 2022 midterms.
The Crows supported Texas Republican party committees at the state and federal level. Harlan Crow contributed $175,000 to the Republican Party of Texas in October 2022, accounting for three-quarters of the $200,480 he has contributed to the state party committee since 2004. Crow’s contribution was also the largest the federal party committee received during the 2022 midterm election.
Harlan Crow has also contributed to groups that keep their donors secret, ProPublica reported, making it impossible to know how much and to which “dark money” groups he has contributed.
“I don’t disclose what I’m not required to disclose,” Crow told the New York Times in 2011.
Crow has previously donated to the Federalist Society and other groups dedicated to pushing the judiciary to the right, according to ProPublica. One of the chief architects of the current Republican supermajority in the U.S. Supreme Court is Leo, the conservative legal activist pictured with Thomas on one of his vacations with Crow.
Leo previously led the Federalist Society, dubbed the “de facto selector of Republican Supreme Court justices” by Slate. After Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, then-Majority Leader McConnell refused to fill the vacancy until after the 2016 election. Former President Donald Trump appointed three new conservative justices – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett – to the court during his four-year term, drawing from a list of potential U.S. Supreme Court candidates Leo helped compile. These three justices voted with the conservative majority to overturn the federal right to abortion in June 2022.
Thomas has received expensive gifts from Crow, including a $19,000 Bible that once belonged to Frederick Douglass, ProPublica reported. While Thomas disclosed that gift, he did not divulge a recent portrait of the justice and his wife. Crow’s foundation also contributed $105,000 to Thomas’ alma mater, Yale Law School, for the “Justice Thomas Portrait Fund,” according to tax filings analyzed by ProPublica.
“[W]e believe Justice Thomas to be one of the greatest Americans of our time, and we believe it is important to make sure as many people as possible learn about him, remember him, and understand the ideals for which he stands. We will continue to support projects that advance this goal,” Crow told ProPublica in a written statement.
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