Clarence Thomas has secretly participated in events for the Koch donor network for at least a decade, despite the fact that the group has brought cases before the Supreme Court, according to a bombshell new ProPublica report.
“I can’t imagine—it takes my breath away, frankly—that he would go to a Koch network event for donors,” John E. Jones III, a retired federal judge appointed by George W. Bush, told ProPublica. “What you’re seeing is a slow creep toward unethical behavior. Do it if you can get away with it.”
The Koch network is one of the biggest and most influential political organizations in the United States. Over the past 50 years, brothers Charles and David Koch have helped bring about the rise of the Tea Party and sought to slash government regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
The first mention of Thomas in connection with the Koch network, recently rebranded as Stand Together, was in 2010, when donors received an event invitation that said the Supreme Court justice had spoken at a previous summit.
He also spoke at an event in 2018, when he was flown in on a private jet. In now classic Thomas fashion, he revealed none of these connections on his financial disclosure forms. It is unclear who paid for the private jet that took him to the 2018 fundraising event. But all of his appearances were arranged with the help of dark-money king Leonard Leo.
Aside from appearing at Koch network events as a draw to donors, Thomas has also interacted more personally with the Koch brothers for a long time at the Bohemian Grove, which ProPublica describes as a “secretive all-men’s retreat in Northern California” that attracts major corporate and political players.
Thomas has attended Bohemian Grove retreats for more than two decades as a guest of his longtime, increasingly problematic friend Harlan Crow. It costs thousands of dollars for a member to bring a guest to the Grove, but witnesses told ProPublica that Thomas was there almost every year. He did not disclose many of those trips.
Crow, a Republican billionaire megadonor and Nazi memorabilia collector, has repeatedly lavished Thomas with expensive gifts. These include island-hopping yacht vacations, private school tuition for Thomas’s nephew, and buying and renovating a Thomas family property, where Thomas’s mother still lives.
During the period when Thomas has been documented spending time with the Koch network, his position on government regulation has shifted dramatically. The most significant example is the 1984 case of Chevron v. NRDC, which found that government agencies are responsible for determining the rules that put laws into effect.
The Koch network has repeatedly challenged this precedent over the years. Thomas wrote the majority opinion in a 2005 case that expanded the protections from Chevron. By 2020, he had rejected his own opinion as unconstitutional.
In the upcoming Supreme Court term, the justices will hear a case that could overturn the Chevron precedent. Thomas’s shocking switch could help deliver the Koch network a major victory.
“What we’re seeing emerge is someone who is living his professional life in a way that’s seeing these extrajudicial opportunities as a perk of the office,” Charles Geyh, a judicial ethics expert at Indiana University law school, said to ProPublica about Thomas. “There’s a culture of impartiality that’s really at risk here.”