A detailed look at the nonprofit network powered by conservative activist Leonard Leo with new reporting on money paid to his for-profit businesses

For decades Leonard Leo has been a (mostly) behind-the-scenes judicial activist, instrumental in placing five conservative justices on the Supreme Court and influencing hundreds of lower court appointments. Leo was dubbed Donald Trump’s “Court Whisperer” for his role advising Trump during his presidency.

But he is slowly emerging from behind the scenes as the media and others investigate his role in connecting Supreme Court justices and wealthy donors and the recent reporting on significant financial transactions between his nonprofit and for-profit businesses. As Leo’s wealth grows, he is broadening his sites beyond the judiciary, to spread his religious right-wing ideology and strategies to new political and cultural areas.

Below is an overview of Leonard Leo with highlights of coverage from the past few years and several significant investigations from 2023. Further down is new reporting on payments made to Leo’s for-profit businesses and diagrams showing all of the nonprofits where Leo is affiliated.

Scroll further down to see more detail on these key highlights:

  • New reporting reveals that the nonprofits aligned with Leonard Leo have paid significantly more to his for-profit business CRC Advisors than other nonprofits. Tables below display in detail the money paid to Leo’s for-profit businesses by 20+ nonprofits that are not aligned with Leo compared to fees paid by Leo-aligned nonprofits.
  • From 2020 to 2022 the average annual payment made to Leo’s for profit business CRC Advisors by Leo-aligned nonprofits was $6.8 million per payment – compared to an average annual payment of $230,000 from nonprofits not affiliated with Leo.
  • Two diagrams shed light on Leo’s vast nonprofit network and display all of the nonprofits that Leo has run or where he has served as an officer or director in the most recent IRS 990 filings from 2020 to 2022. Details include compensation paid to Leo, the missions of the organizations he is affiliated with, and links to the most recent filings.

Note: None of the information presented implies any criminal or illegal activity or wrongdoing by any of the entities or people referenced. Information may be updated periodically.

Leonard Leo’s judicial activism and dark money network

In 2017 the New York Times published a piece on Leonard Leo who had been executive vice president of the conservative Federalist Society and had taken a leave to advise Donald Trump on Judicial nominees including Neil Gorsuch. They accurately noted at that time that most Americans had probably never heard of Leo.

Leonard Leo first appeared on my radar in 2017 because he was a director of Reclaim New York, with Rebekah Mercer and former director Steve Bannon – who I had been following because of Bannon and the Mercer family’s support of Trump and investment in Cambridge Analytica.

A 2019 Washington Post story described Leonard Leo’s behind-the-scenes campaign to remake the nation’s courts:

The story of Leo’s rise offers an inside look into the modern machinery of political persuasion. It shows how undisclosed interests outside of government are harnessing the nation’s nonprofit system to influence judicial appointments that will shape the nation for decades.

A Guardian story from 2020 described how Leo-aligned nonprofit the Judicial Education Project – also called the Honest Elections Project – was fighting to restrict voting in the 2020 presidential election. The Judicial Education Project (later renamed The 85 Fund) was run by Carrie Severino who ran the similarly named Judicial Crisis Network, also known as JCN and since renamed The Concord Fund. Severino was previously a law clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas.

Many of the nonprofits aligned with Leo have confusingly similar names, have often changed their names, and are led by an overlapping group of people who expand out to a wider network of organizations. One example is Neil Corkery who has been a director and/or treasurer for many Leo-aligned nonprofits and per Politico is also the CFO of Leo’s for-profit company CRC Advisors. I noted in this twitter/x thread that Neil Corkery was also an officer for Candace Owens Blexit Foundation.

Robert Maguire at CREW has investigated the dark money that has been funding Leo through various nonprofits including the Rule of Law Trust. In 2022 he reported on Leo’s mysterious $200 million dark money war chest ahead of the 2022 midterms, and how his network was active in “culture war battles over Critical Race Theory, trans rights and climate change mitigation” and the consequential efforts to change how elections are conducted.

For years Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has used hearings to educate the public about Leonard Leo and the dark money networks he influenced including the Federalist Society and the Judicial Crisis Network.

In 2020 Senators Debbie Stabenow, Chuck Schumer and Sheldon Whitehouse published a report on Captured Courts that featured a section entitled “Follow the Money: The Federalist Society, Leonard Leo, and How Special-Interest Money Dominates Our Courts.”

But with Trump dominating the news throughout his presidency, the coverage of Leo was sporadic and most of it was over-shadowed by Trump and better-known members of his inner circle. It wasn’t until 2023 that Leonard Leo started to garner more visibility and consistent media coverage.

Leonard Leo’s plans to crush liberal dominance

In February 2023 the Wall Street Journal reported on how Leonard Leo was leading a multimillion-dollar effort to push anti-ESG messaging and legislation. Leo’s nonprofit Marble Freedom Trust and his consulting firm CRC Advisors spent over $10 million on the push against ESG.

Their goal: Transform the acronym for environmental, social and corporate-governance investing into a rallying cry against “woke capitalism,” much the way critical race theory became shorthand for broader criticisms about how race is taught in schools. 

In March 2023 ProPublica reported on Leo’s new nonprofit Teneo Network and his plans to expand beyond the judiciary and to influence all aspects of American politics and culture.

Leo declared in a slick but private video to potential donors, he planned to “crush liberal dominance” across American life. The country was plagued by “woke-ism” in corporations and education, “one-sided journalism” and “entertainment that’s really corrupting our youth.”

Another piece from ProPublica and The Guardian described the state strategy implemented by Leo who has been called Donald Trump’s ‘Court Whisperer’ because of the key role he had masterminding judicial appointments during the Trump presidency.

In October ProPublica published a story called “We Don’t Talk About Leonard: The Man Behind the Right’s Supreme Court Supermajority.” The piece provides perhaps the most extensive deep dive into how Leo has built a machine and implemented a strategy that has remade the American legal system, and reports on what Leo plans to do next. In the piece the executive director of the Republican Attorneys General Association says:

Leonard Leo has done more to advance conservative causes than any single person in the history of the country.

Leo’s decades-long Supreme Court relationships

Leo has also been in the news recently because of his deep relationships with Justice Clarence Thomas, donor Harlan Crow as well as other justices and major GOP donors.

At the age of 25 Leonard Leo helped with Clarence Thomas’s nomination, and Thomas is a godfather to one of Leo’s daughters. For decades Leo has organized events and donor meetings with Clarence Thomas, Justice Samuel Alito and many others.

The Washington Post reported that in 2012 Leonard Leo instructed GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway to bill the nonprofit Judicial Education Project and to use the money to pay Clarence Thomas’s wife Virginia “Ginni” Thomas “another $25K” and that the paperwork should have “No mention of Ginni, of course.”

In all, according to the documents, the Polling Company paid (Ginni) Thomas’s firm, Liberty Consulting, $80,000 between June 2011 and June 2012, and it expected to pay $20,000 more before the end of 2012.

Investigations by ProPublica revealed that Republican donor and real estate magnate Harlan Crow paid for lavish travel and gifts for Justice Thomas for decades and Thomas repeatedly failed to disclose these gifts.

A painting at Crow’s private lakeside resort shows Crow, far right, Clarence Thomas, second from right, and Leonard Leo, second from left. Source: ProPublica

In the July 2023 the Senate Judiciary Committee requested information from Leonard Leo, as well as billionaires Paul Singer and Robin Arkley, for a full accounting of gifts to Supreme Court justices.

Leo’s lawyer argued that the requests for Leo’s financial records violated his constitutional rights and Leo did not comply with the request. In early November the Senate Judiciary Committee authorized subpoenas for Harlan Crow and Leonard Leo as part of the committee’s Supreme Court ethics probe.

Leonard Leo’s nonprofit network has paid tens of millions of dollars to his for-profit businesses

Heidi Przybyla has done extensive reporting for Politico on Leonard Leo and how many of his nonprofits have made significant payments to his for-profit business.

A March 2023 story highlighted how Leonard Leo and his friends benefitted from his judicial activism and described tens of millions of dollars paid by Leo-aligned nonprofits to two for-profit businesses run by Leo, CRC Advisors and BH Group.

A network of political non-profits formed by judicial activist Leonard Leo moved at least $43 million to a new firm he is leading, raising questions about how his conservative legal movement is funded… A POLITICO investigation based on dozens of financial, property and public records dating from 2000 to 2021 found that Leo’s lifestyle took a lavish turn beginning in 2016, the year he was tapped as an unpaid adviser to incoming President Donald Trump on Supreme Court justices. It’s the same period during which he erected a for-profit ecosystem around his longtime nonprofit empire that is shielded from taxes.

In April 2023, the Campaign for Accountability filed a complaint with the D.C. attorney general and the IRS to request a probe into what services were provided by Leo’s for-profit businesses and whether Leo violated laws against using charities for personal enrichment.

A few months after her initial story, Przybyla reported that Washington D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb was investigating Leo and his network of nonprofit groups.

In October Leo’s lawyer said he would not cooperate with the DC probe because Schwalb has “no legal authority to conduct any investigatory steps or take any enforcement measures” because Leo’s aligned nonprofits were organized outside of D.C.

Campaign for Accountability Complaint

In April 2023 the Campaign for Accountability sent the IRS this Complaint Against Several Tax-Exempt Organizations Paying Excessive Compensation, Directly or Indirectly, to Leonard Leo.

This section describes the key focus of the complaint:

There are questions as to whether the Leo-Affiliated Nonprofits have diverted substantial portions of their income and assets, directly or indirectly, to the personal benefit of Leonard Leo. Most of these entities have either made substantial independent contractor payments (to) one or more of his for-profit business entities or made major contributions to other Leo-Affiliated Nonprofits that made such payments. Such payments were generally listed as made in exchange (for) alleged consulting, research, public relations, or similar services, however, CfA has reasonable questions about whether those alleged services were actually rendered at all or, if services were rendered, whether the payments made were substantially in excess of the fair market value of those services.  


To get a clearer picture of the vast network of nonprofits that have been run by and affiliated with Leonard Leo, I have combed through the invaluable ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer to compile a detailed overview with tables and diagrams showing the financial transactions among nonprofits that have paid Leonard Leo’s for-profit businesses and all of the nonprofits where Leonard Leo has recently been affiliated as an officer or director.

Much of this work builds upon the excellent reporting by Heidi Przybyla and the complaint filed by Campaign for Accountability (which you can read in the pdf above) – and adds some new information not previously reported.

New reporting shows Leo-affiliated nonprofits paid his for-profit business CRC Advisor significantly more than payments from other nonprofits

New information reported here for the first time reveals a list of over twenty nonprofits that are not known to be directly aligned with Leonard Leo that have paid his for-profit company CRC Advisors fees since 2020.

As the Campaign for Accountability complaint noted, there were questions about the contractor payments that benefitted Leonard Leo and “whether the payments made were substantially in excess of the fair market value of those services.”  

This new reporting shows that for the three years from 2020 to 2022 CRC Advisors was paid over $8.5 million by more than twenty nonprofits (see the first table below). During the three year period 37 payments were made, with an average payment of $230,000. The payments range from a low of $100,951 from First Liberty Institute in 2021 to a high of $885,841 from Patientrightsadvocate Org Inc. in 2022.

Based on public 990 filings that have been released to-date, only three nonprofits made annual payments above $500,000 to CRC – Patientrightsadvocate Org Inc paid $885,841 in 2022, Heritage Action for America paid $797,629 in 2021 and Consumer Research Inc paid $624,456 in 2021. None of the nonprofits that are not directly aligned with Leonard Leo has come close the multi-million dollar payments made by Leo-aligned nonprofits to CRC Advisors.

For the three year period from 2020 to 2022 Leo-aligned nonprofits The 85 Fund, The Concord Fund and the Federalist Society made 8 payments to CRC totaling $54,306,173 (see the second table below). These nonprofits paid an average of almost $6.8 million per payment, and payments ranged from a low of $1,565,911 from the Federalist Society in 2022 to $21,715,382 from The 85 Fund in 2021 (the 85 Fund has not yet reported their 2022 financials so that amount is not included yet).

To show how intertwined these organizations are, as Przybyla reported — in 2020 when the Federalist Society paid CRC Advisors over $1.6 million, they also received a grant of $5.6 million from The 85 Fund.

The 22 nonprofits that paid Leo’s CRC Advisors $100,000 or more from 2020 to 2022

This first table shows other nonprofits, not known to be directly associated with Leo, that paid over $100,000 to CRC between 2020 and 2022. This shows the wider network that financially supports Leo’s consulting services.

Note that nonprofits that pay CRC Advisors or any contractor less than $100,000 do not disclose that information on their form 990, and any nonprofit with more than 5 contractors that were paid over $100,000 only display the top five on their 990. So this list is partial and does not reflect the full extent of the nonprofit business earnings for Leonard Leo’s CRC Advisors and does not reflect any payments from any for-profit businesses.

These nonprofits were identified using a text search of the ProPublic Nonprofit Explorer searching on the terms ‘Creative Response Concepts’ ‘CRC Advisors’ and ‘CRC Public Relations’.

Note: in mobile scroll or swipe to the right to view all columns in the table.

NonprofitDescription of ServiceTotal
2020-2022
202220212020
Patientrightsadvocate Org IncCommunications / public affairs1,286,156885,841400,315
Job Creators Action FundMedia/PR896,497287,963263,819344,715
Heritage Action for AmericaMarketing & Advertising797,629797,629
Consumer Research Inc. Public relations737,381624,456112,925
Americans For Public TrustPublic policy strategy690,092470,092220,000
Numbersusa Education & Research FoundationMedia relations558,911186,244186,904185,763
Foundation for Government AccountabilityPublic relations400,000240,000160,000
The Catholic Association FoundationConsulting330,655210,000120,655
Kingdom Alliance BuildersPublic relations320,000160,000160,000
Tea Party Patriots Action Consulting304,499153,750150,749
Tea Party Patriots Foundation IncConsulting268,750135,000133,750
Foundation For Accountability And Civic TrustConsulting259,276128,593130,683
Speech First Inc.Consulting255,525255,525
First Liberty Institute240,205100,951139,254
Club for Growth Foundation Inc.Fellowship Program Services240,201240,201
American Enterprise Institute For Public Policy ResearchPublic relations200,000200,000
Initiative For Health Care AffordabilityPublic relations142,500142,500
Center For Individual Rights (note for year ending March 2023)Campaign Publicity and promotions125,000125,000
Forum for US Leadership Inc.Public relations120,000120,000
The Vandenberg CoalitionPublic relations120,000120,000
Woodson CenterConsulting109,770109,770
Parents Defending Education106,938106,938
Total8,509,9851,645,0484,914,1731,950,764

Payments made by Leo-aligned nonprofits to Leo’s for-profit businesses

This second table shows payments made by nonprofits affiliated with Leonard Leo to two for-profit businesses associated with Leo – Creative Response Concepts, also known as CRC Advisors and CRC Public Relations, and BH Group. Leonard Leo reportedly took over leadership of CRC in 2020, but it is not known if he had any financial relationship with CRC prior to 2020, so revenue for prior years is included for reference.

Nonprofits run by Leonard Leo or closely affiliated with him have paid CRC and BH Group just over $56 million from 2020 to 2022 and almost $100,000,000 from 2016 through 2022.

The total amount paid to BH Group since 2016 is approximately $15.5 million and the amount paid to CRC since Leo is publicly known to have taken leadership in 2020 is $54.3 million – for a total of approximately $70 million paid to Leo’s businesses by affiliated non-profits.

Note that several 2022 filings have not yet been released so the 2022 amount is likely to increase.

NonprofitContractorTotal
2020-2022
Total
2016-2022
2022202120202019201820172016
The 85 Fund
(Judicial Education Project until 2019) *
CRC **33,832,71742,600,24521,715,38212,117,3355,881,250978,000720,7781,187,500
The 85 Fund
(Judicial Education Project until 2019)
BH Group2,962,465935,125675,0001,352,340
The Concord Fund
(Judicial Crisis Network/JCN until 2022)
CRC15,694,29627,016,1393,757,4547,679,3314,257,5113,485,1513,348,6383,049,6151,438,439
The Concord Fund
(Judicial Crisis Network/JCN until 2022)
BH Group2,905,0004,474,875500,0001,595,0001,191,875241,000947,000
Federalist Society For Law & Public Policy Studies CRC4,779,16010,724,447 1,565,9111,576,7671,636,4821,645,7801,539,4991,403,7111,356,297
Wellspring Committee CRC765,000 165,000600,000
Wellspring Committee BH Group1,669,900919,900750,000
Freedom and Opportunity Fund
(tax status revoked 5/5/22)
CRC850,000 400,000450,000
America Engaged (liquidated 2022)CRC1,510,554 600,251760,303150,000
BH Fund
(liquidated 2022)
CRC400,000400,000
Rule of Law Trust
(pass through to contractors per 990)
BH Group6,445,0002,100,0004,345,000
TotalCRC54,306,17383,866,3855,323,36530,971,48018,011,32811,612,4326,791,4406,124,1045,032,236
TotalBH Group2,095,00015,552,240500,0001,595,0004,227,0005,261,0003,219,240750,000
TotalCRC+BH Group56,401,17399,418,6255,323,36531,471,48019,606,32815,839,43212,052,4409,343,3445,782,236
* Leo is not listed in The 85 Fund 990 but is reportedly closely affiliated. ** CRC = Creative Response Concepts or CRC Advisors or CRC Public Relations.

Overview of nonprofits run by or affiliated with Leonard Leo

The information that follows helps provide context for the vast network of nonprofits where Leo either directly runs the organization or serves as an officer or director.

The section below shows organizations where Leo is listed as a primary officer and director. These nonprofits range from the small Chicago Freedom Trust, which gave $20,000 in grants to a small number of organizations in 2022, to Marble Freedom Trust which received a $1.6 billion donation in 2021 from Barry Seid.

The section section shows other nonprofits where Leo is one of many officers or directors.

Information is based on the most recent IRS 990 filing for each nonprofit (2020-2022).

Chicago Freedom Trust

Primary Trustee and Co-Trustee


EIN # 26-4123223

Source: 2022 IRS 990


501(c)(3) exempt private foundation

Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Standards

Director, Co-Chairman


EIN # 36-3235550

Source: 2021 IRS 990


Summary: The organization promotes intellectual diversity and the rule of law in the legal community. It is organized exclusively for charitable, educational and scientific purposes.


Compensation to Leo (2017-2021):

Marble Freedom Trust

Trustee and Chairman


EIN # 85-0784793

Source: 2022 IRS 990


Summary: To maintain and expand human freedom consistent with the values and ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.


Compensation to Leo (2021-2022):


Net Assets 2022:


Note: In 2021 Barre Seid sold his electronics company Tripp Lite and donated $1.6 billion from the proceeds to Marble Freedom Trust. (The New York Times)

National Catholic Prayer Breakfast

Director, President


EIN # 20-0408543

Source: 2021 IRS 990


Summary: The National Catholic Prayer Breakfast organizes and hosts an annual prayer breakfast in Washington, DC for Roman Catholic clergy and laity across the United States for the purposes of worship and fellowship.

Rule of Law Trust

Trustee (sole officer)


EIN # 83-1047727

Source: 2021 IRS 990


Summary: To advance conservative principles and causes through communications, research, strategy and assistance to other organizations.


Compensation to Leo (2021):

Students For Life Action

Co-Chair


EIN # 83-3084374

Source: 2022 IRS 990


Summary: Training and mobilizing this generation of pro-life leaders to impact public policy.

Students For Life of America Inc

Co-Chair


EIN # 52-1576352

Source: 2022 IRS 990


Summary: Empowering & equiping those affected by abortion to join our human rights movement

Teneo Networks

Chairman


EIN # 83-2151429

Source: 2021 IRS 990


Summary: To research educate and connect a network of leaders working to develop practical solutions to pressing global issues.

America Engaged

Director, President


EIN # 81-2072162

Source: 2022 IRS 990


Liquidated

BH Fund

Director, President


EIN # 81-2072162

Source: 2022 IRS 990


Liquidated

Freedom and Opportunity Fund

President


EIN # 81-1199959

Source: 2022 IRS 990


Tax status revoked 5/5/22

Becket Fund

Director

Summary: Public interest legal activities.


EIN # 52-1858532

Source: 2022 IRS 990

Catholic University of America

Trustee

Summary: The Catholic University of America is the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States.


EIN # 53-0196583

Source: 2022 IRS 990

Ethics and Public Policy Center Inc

Director

Summary: EPPC is dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to the critical issues of public policy.


EIN # 52-1162185

Source: 2022 IRS 990

Leonine Forum Inc

Director

Summary: To cultivate an emerging generation of virtuous leaders and empower them to form fully integrated lives of faith in order to apply the social teachings of the church within their professional and civic life.


EIN # 82-0932756

Source: 2022 IRS 990

Napa Institute Support Foundation

Director

Mission: To support independent and church-affiliated organizations which promote the teachings of Jesus Christ in accordance with the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church; promote priests and professed religious life; and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and promote the Catholic faith.


EIN # 81-1190021

Source: 2021 IRS 990

Reclaim New York Inc

Director

Mission: Reclaim New York educates New Yorkers on issues like affordability, government reform, and education. Through civic education we empower citizens to reclaim their ownership in their government.


EIN # 46-3982730

Source: 2022 IRS 990


Note: Rebekah Mercer is Director/Treasurer and Jennifer Mercer is Director/Secretary. Stephen Bannon was Director/Vice Chairman from 2013-2015.

Reclaim New York Initiative

Director

Mission: We work to empower all New Yorkers with information and tools to make sure government officials understand loud and clear that they work for us.


EIN # 81-4137426

Source: 2021 IRS 990

The Sanctuary of Culture Foundation

Director

Summary: Raising funds for restorations, collection, study, preservation, and promotion of significant aspects of knowledge, culture, and humanity.


EIN # 46-1498354

Source: 2022 IRS 990

Treasures of History Inc

President (1 of 6 presidents)

Summary: to receive and allocate contributions to any Roman Catholic organization (1) organized and operated exclusively for religious purposes within the meaning of Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3) (the Tax Code); and (2) committed to the collection, organization, study, preservation, and enhancement of historically significant artifacts or documents regarding the Catholic Church.


EIN # 85-1368230

Source: 2022 IRS 990


Note: In 2022 three grants totaling $1,382,300 were given to the Vatican.


None of the information presented implies any criminal or illegal activity or wrongdoing by any of the entities or people referenced. Information may be updated periodically.

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