Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas reported more trips paid for by Texas billionaire and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow in 2022, according to a newly-filed disclosure detailing the justice’s financial dealings.
The new financial disclosure reveals that Crow — who is described in the new filing as “a longtime friend of filer and his wife” —- paid for Thomas’ travel to speak at a conference in Dallas, which was hosted at a venue owned by Crow’s company in May 2022.
Thomas also reported that Crow paid for another return flight from a separate event in Dallas and a trip to the Adirondacks in New York, where Crow has a private resort that Thomas has reportedly visited every summer for several years.
Notes attached to the financial disclosure indicate that Thomas flew privately on the May 2022 trip due to increased security concerns after a draft Supreme Court opinion overturning landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade was leaked that month.
Crow reportedly treated Thomas and his wife, conservative activist Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, to luxury travel for over two decades, most of which did not appear on Thomas’ financial disclosures, ProPublica first reported.
ProPublica’s investigation, which found that Crow bankrolled luxury travel, a real estate deal and tuition arrangements for the Thomases, spurred scrutiny of the justice’s finances and fueled calls for more transparency.
Crow told ProPublica that he was “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.”
But Crow has flexed his political influence in other ways, donating millions to Republican groups and conservative causes over the years. OpenSecrets found that Crow and his wife publicly contributed $14.7 million to state and federal political candidates, committees and parties since they met the Thomases, who the Crows describe as “very dear friends,” in 1996.
Notes attached to Thomas’ new filing also confirm that Crow’s company purchased three properties from Thomas in 2014 for $133,000, which Thomas did not disclose in prior annual filings and which ProPublica revealed in an April investigation using state tax documents and a deed filed at a courthouse in Chatham County, Ga. Thomas claims the transactions were “inadvertently omitted” from earlier filings.
Multiple legal experts told ProPublica that Thomas may have broken the law by not disclosing these gifts. Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Monday to “safeguard public faith in the judiciary.”
While Thomas defended his lack of disclosure in a written statement claiming he “was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable,” he admitted that “guidelines are now being changed.”
“And, it is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future,” Thomas pledged.
Thomas filed the new disclosure on Aug. 31 after receiving a 90-day filing extension around when news of Thomas’ undisclosed trips and entanglements with Crow broke earlier this year.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito filed his annual financial disclosure on Aug. 31 as well. Like Thomas, Alito requested a 90-day filing extension around when his own finances came under scrutiny due to ProPublica reporting about his alleged failure to disclose travel with another billionaire benefactor.
This is not the first time that Thomas has faced scrutiny for failing to divulge information in annual financial disclosures.
In 2011, Thomas amended 20 years of filings, divulging hundreds of thousands of dollars in previously unreported payments to his wife and previously unreported employers. The Supreme Court justice claimed that he didn’t knowingly violate the law because he “misunderstood” the rules.
The amended financial disclosures revealed that Ginni Thomas was paid nearly $700,000 between 2003 and 2007 by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative group that has weighed in on Supreme Court justice confirmation processes, filed multiple amicus briefs and had cases before the Supreme Court.
Since the amendments, the only income to Ginni Thomas that has been reported is from her firm, Liberty Consulting.
By reporting payments from a single firm, Justice Thomas can avoid reporting his wife’s clients and the exact amounts paid since personal financial disclosure forms only require spouses to report the exact amounts of honoraria paid.
Because Supreme Court justices are only required to list their spouse’s employer and exact amounts of any honoraria paid directly to the spouse — not their spouse’s clients or the amount of compensation the spouse received — the spouse of a Supreme Court justice can simply create a firm to route payments through in order to hide who is paying them and the amount.
Justice Thomas’ new financial disclosure covering 2022 also reveals that Ginni Thomas continued to draw a salary through her for-profit consulting firm but because of the disclosure loophole, the amount of money she received and the sources remain hidden.
Ginni Thomas has a long public history of involvement with a variety of conservative activists and organizations, some of which have filed amicus briefs or had interest in cases before the Supreme Court.
Ginni Thomas launched Liberty Central in 2009 and was initially the president and CEO of the group. But in 2010, Liberty Central announced plans to merge with another conservative non-profit group called the Patrick Henry Center. She has also played a role in the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, Groundswell Group, Council for National Policy and Turning Point USA.
Thomas also served on the steering committee of the Save Our Country Coalition, which has called COVID-19 health mandates “unconstitutional power grabs.” The coalition’s advocacy included a TV and radio campaign intended to mobilize doctors that was reportedly spearheaded by Tea Party Patriots, one of the groups that sponsored the rally that preceded the U.S. Capitol attack on Jan. 6.
Thomas’s Disclosure Issues Spur Calls for Transparency
Several lawmakers have demanded accountability after recent ProPublica reporting and other revelations. Some called for Thomas’ impeachment. Others have renewed a push for more sweeping ethics reforms.
While lower courts in the federal judiciary have formal ethics codes, the Supreme Court has long operated without one, leaving the court vulnerable to outside influence.
On May 13, 2022 President Joe Biden signed a law to increase financial disclosure requirements for Supreme Court justices and requires the Supreme Court adopt a code of conduct.
The Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act mandates that Supreme Court and federal judiciary financial disclosures are at least as rigorous as the House and Senate disclosure rules. The act compels federal judges and Supreme Court justices to file transaction reports for securities trades worth more than $1,000 within 45 days of the deal and disclose gifts, travel or income received from anyone with an interest before the court.
The new law also mandates that financial disclosure reports for federal judges and Supreme Court justices be published online, providing for the creation of an online database where the public can search federal judges’ or Supreme Court justices’ financial records.
On Aug. 11, a group of House Democrats led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the vice ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, wrote a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland calling on the Justice Department to open an investigation into Thomas.
The letter alleged that Thomas failed “to report significant gifts he received from Harlan Crow and other billionaires for nearly two decades — in defiance of his duty under federal law.” The letter was also signed by Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Judiciary Committee ranking member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Oversight Committee ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).
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