Clarence Thomas ‘secretly attended two Koch donor summits’, report says

Justice Clarence Thomas secretly took part in events for the right-wing Koch donor network despite the group supporting cases brought before the Supreme Court, according to a report.

Justice Thomas flew on a private jet in 2018 to speak to the conservative network’s annual winter donor summit in Palm Springs, California, according to ProPublica.

While at the event, he was a guest at a private dinner for donors, the outlet reported on Friday. It was at least the second event attended by Justice Thomas and he did not publicly declare it.

Justice Thomas has been criticised over a string of expensive vacations and gifts that he has received from billionaire and Republican donor Harlan Crow, which he also failed to disclose.

These include a trip on a luxury yacht, the renovation of his mother’s home, and private school tuition for his nephew. In his 2022 financial disclosure, Justice Thomas revealed that Mr Crow had paid for his travel expenses and meals three times last year.

Mr Crow has denied that the men ever discussed any business he had before the court but it has resulted in calls for stronger ethics rules being put in place for the country’s highest court.

The Koch network, founded by brothers Charles and David Koch, is one of the most influential political groups in the US.

It has donated millions of dollars to a conservative legal group Cause of Action Institute, which is attempting to get rid of a legal tool that helps federal agencies defend environmental rules in court. That case begins in October.

Justice Thomas has been accused of unethical behaviour (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Justice Thomas has been accused of unethical behaviour (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“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, which is officially known as “Stand Together” defended Justice Thomas in a statement.

“There is a long tradition of public officials, including Supreme Court Justices, sharing their experiences, ideas, and judicial philosophy with members of the public at dinners and other events. 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,” the statement read.

And the group added: “Stand Together’s January 2018 summit was attended by several hundred people, including members of the media who covered the event. In fact, Stand Together has hosted dozens of summits over decades. The idea that attending a couple of events to promote a book or give dinner remarks, as all the justices do, could somehow be undue influence just doesn’t hold water.”

In 2010 donors received an invitation to an event that said Justice Thomas had spoken at a previous summit.