U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan issues warning to AG investigating conservative donor Leonard Leo

By: - November 2, 2023 4:50 am
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, speaks to reporters as House Republicans hold a caucus meeting at the Longworth House Office Building on Oct. 13, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, speaks to reporters as House Republicans hold a caucus meeting at the Longworth House Office Building on Oct. 13, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-OH, is leveraging his leadership of the House Judiciary Committee to discourage an investigation into a conservative mega donor.

Leonard Leo has gone from The Federalist Society to GOP judicial whisperer to the head of a sprawling, well-funded network of dark money organizations. Those political non-profits are at the center of the dispute. According to Politico, Washington D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb has begun investigating whether payments from one of the dark money groups to a Leo-controlled for profit entity violated the law.

In a letter to the attorney general, Jordan and House Oversight and Accountability chairman U.S. Rep. James Comer, R-KY, alleged the investigation was politically motivated. They demanded access to documents and communications related to the inquiry, and ordered Schwalb to schedule a briefing for the committee.

Leo’s political spending is particularly relevant with Issue 1 appearing on the ballot in November. So far, Leo’s Concord Fund has contributed $18 million to oppose the reproductive rights amendment.

Who’s Leonard Leo?

Leonard Leo rose to prominence through The Federalist Society. Under his stewardship, the conservative lawyers network became a kind of farm league for Leo’s efforts to push the state and federal judiciary to the right.

Leo played a significant role in advising George W. Bush’s U.S. Supreme Court’s nominations, but his influence grew substantially with the nomination and eventual election of Donald Trump.  Leo was responsible for drafting the U.S. Supreme Court shortlists Trump touted during his campaign. All three of the justices Trump appointed during his tenure came at Leo’s recommendation.

Outside of The Federalist Society, he helped establish the Judicial Confirmation Network in 2005. That nonprofit’s first task was running a campaign in favor of now-U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Robert’s nomination. The same organization promoted the nominations of conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. It also campaigned against the Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination.

As its mission grew, the organization changed its name to the Judicial Crisis Network. In 2019, JCN changed its name again — this time to The Concord Fund.

Leo’s success in shaping the judiciary garnered significant attention in political circles. Last year it nabbed him a monumental donation. Barre Seid, who owned the electronics company Tripp Lite handed his entire stake to a newly created entity controlled by Leo called Marble Freedom Trust. The trust then sold Tripp Lite for more than $1.6 billion, putting Leo in control of a formidable political war chest.

Ohio spending and D.C. investigation

The Concord Fund has been the biggest single donor in opposition to Issue 1 this November. The group has spent $18 million in that effort as of its pre-general campaign finance report filed last week. For context, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America has invested a bit more than $15 million in the campaign.

But Leo’s involvement in the Issue 1 campaign hasn’t just benefitted the organizers opposing the amendment. It’s been good for Leo, as well.

Although the bulk of his political capital is held by or flows through non-profits, Leo maintains for profit entities as well. His company CRC Advisors brought in more than $1.3 million from PACs that received Concord Fund dollars. The expenditures paid for digital ads and consulting as well as “modeling/polling/testing” according to campaign finance reports.

That pattern, albeit at a much larger scale, is central to an IRS complaint filed by Campaign for Accountability. The organization alleges Leo’s for-profit firms brought in $73 million in revenue from Leo-aligned non-profits between 2016 and 2021.

In the letter to AG Schwalb, Reps. Jordan and Comer draw a direct line from that CFA complaint to Schwalb’s investigation. They also raise questions of jurisdiction — as the Politico story noted, Leo’s organizations recently picked up stakes and registered instead in Texas.

“Worse yet,” Jordan and Comer write, “the Committees are troubled that your investigation could infringe upon the fundamental rights of donor privacy and free association.”

They went on, warning they “will not tolerate” such efforts.

Schwalb’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. CFA’s Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith wrote, “our complaint speaks for itself, and we continue to believe that it merits investigation by both the IRS and the DC Attorney General.”

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.



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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.