Conservatives Got A $1.6 Billion Donation From A Shady Tax-Free Deal In Largest Political Donation In History
In one of the most shocking stories of so-called "dark money" in politics history, a New York Times report reveals a conservative non-profit called Marble Freedom Trust received a $1.6 billion windfall last year--the largest political donation in history.
The donation is an enormous shot in the arm to the Republican Party that is sure to reverberate through politics not only in this fall's midterms but for years to come. It was all done tax-free and with initial total anonymity.
Its origins stem from a little-known Republican insider you've likely never heard of, though you're definitely familiar with his handiwork on everything from abortion rights to climate change policy.
Leonard Leo—a devout Catholic far-right conservative—is former Republican President Donald Trump's so-called "Supreme Court whisperer"—the man behind the former President's SCOTUS nominees, the most conservative in modern history. While few have heard of Leo, many are likely familiar with The Federalist Society—the conservative political organization he co-chairs.
The new donation suggests Leo's work for the Republican movement has only just begun.
\u201cA little-known businessman donated $1.6 billion to a new conservative group run by the Republican operative Leonard Leo, who helped engineer the Supreme Court's conservative dominance and financed battles over abortion, voting and climate change policy. https://t.co/khdrebboc3\u201d— The New York Times (@The New York Times) 1661190305
The donation came from electronics mogul Barre Seid in a series of smaller transactions that appear to have evaded tax liabilities.
Seid is a long-time conservative donor who made a fortune working in the C-suite of electronics manufacturer Tripp Lite.
Rather than donate cash, Seid donated all his shares of Tripp Lite to Leo's Marble Freedom Trust right before the company was sold to an Irish conglomerate for $1.65 billion, the proceeds of which then went to Marble Freedom Trust.
The right has long lagged behind the left in terms of political donations, but Leo's deal levels that playing field considerably and amounts to more than the $1.5 billion the top 15 most active liberal nonprofit political groups spent on political campaigns in 2020.
Leo referenced this disparity in political funding in a statement about the $1.6 billion donation.
It read in part:
“It’s high time for the conservative movement to be among the ranks of George Soros, Hansjörg Wyss, Arabella Advisors and other left-wing philanthropists, going toe-to-toe in the fight to defend our constitution and its ideals."
The donations from Seid to Leo's organization are difficult to trace.
The Times' report on the matter relied upon insiders revealing information about the transactions.
And according to Ray Madoff, a professor of tax law at Boston College, while the transactions are most likely within the bounds of the law, they are undoubtedly shady, having used tax law loopholes to both sell the electronics company in question and make the donation without paying any taxes of any kind.
Madoff characterized this type of financial activity as among the common ways the super wealthy skirt tax liability and in this case actually pass the buck to the American people.
As she put it:
“These actions by the super wealthy are actually costing the American taxpayers to support the political spending of the wealthiest Americans."
On Twitter, many were unnerved by the news of this extraordinary donation.
\u201cLeonard Leo\u2019s Federalist Society is responsible for putting on the Supreme Court, the most extreme, hard-right Justices we have ever had!\n\nA \ud83c\udf0aBlue Wave\ud83c\udf0a is the only way to stop Republicans implementing a nationwide abortion ban, contraception ban & a ban on same-sex marriages.\u201d— Tony \ud83c\udf0a #BlueWave (@Tony \ud83c\udf0a #BlueWave) 1661358273
\u201c@allinwithchris This is unreal, should alarm every American. If we don't overturn Citizens United and banish the influx of billions of right-wing religious extremist money from our political system, we stand to lose everything that makes life worth living in America.\u201d— All In with Chris Hayes (@All In with Chris Hayes) 1661259600
\u201cLeonard Leo is a right-wing fanatic stealth operative who bankrolls fanatic right-wing policy makers. Barre Seid is who bankrolls the bankroller. He has a history of climate change denialism and bigotry which is barely touched upon here. https://t.co/R06Kk5JmAA\u201d— Sarah Kendzior (@Sarah Kendzior) 1661174546
\u201c@RobertMaguire_ @rickhasen Imagine having all that wealth and THIS is how you decide to use it.\u201d— Robert Maguire (@Robert Maguire) 1661176822
\u201cThe fact that an American oligarch gave 1.6 billion (!) to Leonard Leo's foundation AND structured the deal by giving it in transferred stock shares to get out of paying taxes on the proceeds is definitely the most Republican sh*t ever, & perhaps the most dangerous.@GOP\u201d— NoelCaslerComedy (@NoelCaslerComedy) 1661178547
\u201cWith all the talk about debt relief makes it a good time to discuss who paid off Brett Kavanaugh\u2019s massive credit card debt near $200K that just vanished. Was it Leonard Leo from the Federalist Society who just got $1.6 Billion of Dark Money from one wealthy Donor?\u201d— Dan "I Stand With Ukraine" P (@Dan "I Stand With Ukraine" P) 1661375946
\u201cThe more that resident fascist #LeonardLeo\u2014the radical Catholic Oz behind the SCOTUS curtain\u2014appears in the news, the less effective his byzantine operation becomes.\n\nYesterday he killed his Twitter account (h/t @GoddessOfOdness).\n\nEVERYONE has to know who he is & what he does.\u201d— Greg Olear \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6 (@Greg Olear \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6) 1661340811
\u201cThis is an upsetting article. It underscores, yet again, how much of our problems source from the billionaire class. The more money an ideologue has, the more harm it can do and there are few ideologues worse than Leonard Leo. This is a lot of %#@&$ cash. https://t.co/D67PJ4PbMd\u201d— Duty To Warn \ud83d\udd09 (@Duty To Warn \ud83d\udd09) 1661179327
\u201cLeonard Leo & his fascist Federalist Society goons are twisting the knife in the heart of democracy as they buy our government & courts with their untraceable dark money.\u201d— The USA Singers (@The USA Singers) 1661222172
\u201cLeonard Leo is why we no longer have reproductive rights\n\nWhy we can no longer go anywhere without the risk of getting shot\n\nWhy our environment is under frontal assault\n\nWhy there is no longer any separation between church & state\n\nWelcome to the hegemony of Opus Dei Catholicism\u201d— Lindy Li (@Lindy Li) 1661278856
Leo has been a little-known but prolific fundraiser for far-right causes for decades.
His fingerprints are all over hundreds of millions of dollars of 2020 political funding for far-right judicial nominees and efforts toward restricting abortion access and limiting voting rights in the name of fighting supposed voter fraud.
He has deleted his Twitter account since news of the donation broke.