Sep 22, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Clarence Thomas attended Koch Network donor events: report

Clarence Thomas during the formal group photograph

Clarence Thomas in Oct. 2022. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas attended at least two donor events for the conservative political Koch network over the years, according to a ProPublica investigation published Friday.

Why it matters: The new allegations come as the Supreme Court is poised to consider a case the Koch network is behind that could overturn a longstanding precedent.

  • The Supreme Court's new term, beginning in October, includes a case that could see it reconsider its past ruling in the landmark 1984 Chevron v. NRDC case, which set a precedent relating to the powers of federal agencies.
  • The Koch Network has long pushed to see Chevron overturned, per ProPublica. Thomas has also criticized the Chevron doctrine in the past.
  • A spokesperson for the Supreme Court did not respond to a request for comment.

Details: Thomas spoke at a private dinner in California in 2018 for Koch network donors, ProPublica reported.

  • It's unclear who paid for Thomas' private flight to the event; the justice didn't report it in his financial disclosure that year. The Koch Network denied paying for it, per the report.
  • A spokesperson for the Koch network told ProPublica that Thomas "wasn't present for fundraising conversations," but declined to say whether Thomas' appearances at the donor summits were ever connected to a particular initiative or program.
  • Thomas made a "brief drop-by" at the Koch Network summit in 2008, a Supreme Court spokesperson acknowledged years ago.

What they're saying: "All of the sitting Justices and many who came before them have contributed to the national dialogue in speeches, book tours, and social gatherings. Our events are no different. To claim otherwise is false," Gretchen Reiter, a spokesperson for Stand Together — the formal name of the Koch network — told Axios, in a statement that was also shared with ProPublica.

Zoom in: Thomas' relationship to the Kochs goes beyond his attendance at the conservative network's summits.

  • Thomas built a "yearslong, personal relationship with the Koch brothers" during visits to Bohemian Grove, a "secretive all-men's retreat in Northern California," ProPublica reported.
  • Thomas has been a regular at the Grove for 25 years as the guest of Harlan Crow, a GOP megadonor linked to Thomas' other alleged ethical breaches, per the investigation.

The big picture: Thomas made headlines this year for allegedly failing to properly disclose luxury trips received from Crow over two decades, as well as property he sold to Crow.

  • In his annual financial disclosure filed last month, Thomas acknowledged taking flights on Crow's private jet in 2022.
  • The disclosure also contained new information that the justice said was "inadvertently omitted" from past financial disclosures, including about the property Crow purchased from Thomas.
  • Crow also made tuition payments on behalf of Thomas' grandnephew, a separate ProPublica report found.

Thomas has pushed back on criticism of his conduct, saying in April that he has "always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines."

What to watch: The slew of revelations fueled fresh calls from some Democrats for a new code of ethics for the Supreme Court.

  • Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has led that charge.
  • In a statement, he claimed the latest revelations about Thomas raise "serious questions about his impartiality in cases squarely confronting the Chevron doctrine," and called on Thomas to recuse himself from the upcoming case that concerns the Chevron precedent.
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