Speed Reads

'no mention of Ginni, of course'

Clarence and Ginni Thomas face new ethics scrutiny over secret payments, gifted private school tuition

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas accepted from Texas billionaire Harlan Crow at least $100,000 of private school tuition for his legal ward and did not include the gifts on his financial disclosure forms, ProPublic reported Thursday. Hours later, The Washington Post revealed that conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo had arranged at least $80,000 in secret consulting payments for Thomas' wife, Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, in 2011 and 2012.

The newly uncovered payments add to ethical and legal concerns about expensive, undisclosed financial arrangements the Thomas' have accepted from powerful friends over the past two decades, especially Crow.

According to documents obtained by the Post, Leo funneled $80,000 to $100,000 in payments to Ginni Thomas through GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway's company. He told Conway to bill a nonprofit he advised, the Judicial Education Project, then pass the money on to Thomas' Liberty Consulting firm. The billing paperwork should have "no mention of Ginni, of course," Leo wrote Conway in instructions to "give" Thomas "another $25k" in 2012.

Leo, who has used a network of nonprofits to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on getting conservative judges on federal courts, said Ginni Thomas' "long history of working on issues within the conservative movement" is "no secret," and her work for him "did not involve anything connected with either the [Supreme] Court's business or with other legal issues." He kept her name off the paperwork, he said, because "knowing how disrespectful, malicious, and gossipy people can be, I have always tried to protect the privacy of Justice Thomas and Ginni."

Crow, meanwhile, paid for at least two years of private boarding school for Mark Martin, a grandnephew of Clarence Thomas that he and his wife raised as legal guardians from age 6 to 19, ProPublica reports. Mark Paoletta, a longtime friend of Clarence Thomas, confirmed that Crow paid for a year of Martin's tuition at Randolph-Macon Academy in Virginia and another year at Hidden Lake Academy in Georgia, which would have cost about $100,000, ProPublica calculated. If he paid for Martin's other two years at Randolph-Macon, that would add another $50,000.

Crow said in a statement that he "has long been passionate about the importance of quality education and giving back to those less fortunate," and has "supported many young Americans" at a "variety of schools."

Legal ethics experts disagreed on whether Thomas was required by law to disclose the gifted tuition or whether he should have be forced to recuse himself in cases where his wife's clients issued briefs. But they agreed these undisclosed entanglements further undermine public confidence in the court's independence, impartiality, and ethical standards. Read more about the financial arrangements at ProPublica and The Washington Post.