Clarence Thomas Hung Out With Koch Brothers, Megarich Donors at Yearly Summit, Per Report

Another day, another ethics mess for the Supreme Court justice unearthed by ProPublica.

Clarence Thomas Hung Out With Koch Brothers, Megarich Donors at Yearly Summit, Per Report
From left: David Koch (pictured in 2017), Clarence Thomas, and Charles Koch (pictured in 2007) Photo:Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan (Getty Images)

It’s another day that ends in “y,” and we’re enduring yet another ethics debacle from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. This time, ProPublica has reported that the court’s longest tenured justice went to the Koch brothers’ annual donor summit at least twice, in 2018 and 2008, to help inspire donations.

The billionaire libertarian Koch brothers’ Palm Springs summit is a secretive yet marquee event for Charles and David Koch’s network of donors with “an emphasis on preventing leaks that bordered on obsession,” according to ProPublica. Donors in attendance usually have given at least $100,000 per year, and higher donors (we’re talking millions) get special opportunities like dinners with high-profile guests. A former high-level network staffer and a donor told ProPublica that Thomas attended at least one such donor dinner, making him a “fundraising draw” for the Koch network of donors who would (or could be expected to) bring cases before the Supreme Court.

In 2018, Thomas flew private to Palm Springs for the summit. On his financial disclosure document that year, he reported two speaking engagements (in New York City and Fort Worth, Texas) and two teaching events (at the University of Kansas and University of Georgia schools of law). The Koch summit was not listed.

Thomas did not respond to ProPublica’s inquiries about this newly unearthed information, nor did Charles Koch. David Koch died in 2019, so he was unavailable for comment. Stand Together, the Koch donor network, dismissed the idea that Thomas could be influenced at such an event. “Thomas wasn’t present for fundraising conversations,” the spokesperson told the outlet in a lengthy statement.

In the past year, journalists have reported that Thomas secretly accepted opulent travel accommodations from Nazi memorabilia collector and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow. The public also found out that Crow bought Thomas’ mother’s home and paid for the private school tuition of a grand-nephew being raised by Thomas and his wife Ginny. Thomas did not properly disclose these gifts.

If Thomas were a federal judge on a district court in Illinois? Then he could be disciplined for not disclosing any gifts over the years. But as of right now, this code of conduct doesn’t apply to the Supreme Court, which gets to decide what is and is not appropriate for itself.

Previously, Thomas had defended his friendship with Crow, saying Crow and his wife, Kathy, “are among our dearest friends” who had simply joined them on “a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them.” Thomas also said in his rather long 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.”

Charles and David Koch’s network said it didn’t pay for Thomas’ private jet to its summit of high-dollar donors. But that isn’t the trio’s only interaction. ProPublica also reported that the men bonded during trips to “Bohemian Grove, an all-male retreat that attracts some of the nation’s most influential corporate and political figures.” ProPublica reported that Thomas took at least six undisclosed trips to the Grove, likely at the invitation of his bestie Crow. Who doesn’t need an all-male bonding adventure in the woods to get through their long work days of limiting people’s rights?

Thomas was apparently celebrated at the Grove. Per ProPublica:

“I was taken with how comfortable he was in that environment and how popular,” a person who stayed in the same lodge as Thomas one year said. “He holds court there.”

If only he held a full-time job where everyone was on pins and needles waiting to hear what he had to say! Oh wait! He does!

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