Leonard Leo firm received $21M from Leo-linked group

Conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo’s consulting firm received $21 million in 2022 from a group that is a pillar of Leo’s aligned nonprofit network, according to a new tax filing.

That group, The 85 Fund, is part of an umbrella of nonprofits under investigation by the Washington, D.C. attorney general for potentially violating tax laws. Carrie Severino, a former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, is a director of the group.

The tax filing, obtained by the watchdog group Accountable.US, shows that last year, The 85 Fund’s highest paid contractor was CRC Advisors, the for-profit firm where Leo is chairman.

The revelation comes as D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb is looking into the finances and expenditures associated with The 85 Fund and as Leo faces enhanced congressional scrutiny for his role in bolstering the conservative legal movement. This includes gifts he may have arranged to Supreme Court justices after reports that he assisted in setting up a gift for Justice Samuel Alito.

In the filing, The 85 Fund states that it “undertook activities to educate the public about the importance of constitutionalism, limited government, religious liberty, the role of the courts, education policies and election reforms.” The amount paid to CRC is similar to what it received from The 85 Fund the previous year, $21.7 million.

Leo’s network came under investigation after a progressive watchdog group filed a complaint with the D.C. attorney general and the IRS following a POLITICO report in March that The 85 Fund had paid CRC $33.8 million over two years beginning in 2020. The complaint requested an investigation into what services were provided and whether Leo was in violation of laws against using charities for personal enrichment.

Around the time that news emerged about Schwalb’s investigation, it was also revealed that The 85 Fund had moved its headquarters, which was a UPS mailbox, from the D.C. area to Texas. The 85 Fund had been incorporated in Virginia for nearly 20 years, and Leo is not cooperating with investigators. After CRC, the next-highest paid contractor is $1.4 million to the Valentine Group, described as an educational advocacy group.

The third-highest paid contractor is a group registered to the home address of Leo’s friend, Ronald Cass, called the Center for the Rule of Law. Leo was the best man at Cass’ wedding and Cass was a longtime friend of Justice Antonin Scalia. Cass’ daughter is slated to clerk for Alito.

CRC Advisors did not immediately return a request for comment.

Another Leo-linked nonprofit, the Concord Fund — also known as the Judicial Crisis Network — paid about $3.8 million to his firm between July 2021 to the end of June 2022. It was the nonprofit’s second-largest independent contractor during that period.

The 85 Fund reported contributions and grants of about $135 million and had about $139 million in expenses. About 15 percent of its expenses went to Leo’s firm.

The filing also includes a massive sum paid to a group called Donors Trust, often called the “dark money ATM” of the conservative movement because it allows its anonymous donors to funnel unlimited amounts of money into the U.S. political system.

That anonymity makes it difficult to establish Leo’s exact relationship with Donors Trust. Yet the massive number — coming from Leo’s pillar nonprofit — accounts for approximately 30 percent of Donors Trust’s entire revenue stream in 2022, which illustrates Leo’s considerable influence over Donors Trust. In 2022, Donors Trust also gave over $4 million to the Federalist Society, the group of conservative lawyers of which Leo is co-chairman.

The 85 Fund also gave $2.3 million to the Federalist Society and $80,000 to Leo’s alma mater, Cornell University.

The listed treasurer of The 85 Fund also appeared to profit from its business. The group paid $122,100 for consulting services to Madison Strategies, which is 35 percent controlled by Gary Marx. Marx, who is named The 85 Fund’s treasurer in the filing, is also president of Madison Strategies.

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