Inside the consulting firm run by Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas
(L-R) Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife and conservative activist Virginia Thomas arrive at the Heritage Foundation October 21, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Drew Anger | Getty Images
Virginia “Ginni” Thomas runs a little-known consulting firm that some campaign watchdog groups say could create another conflict of interest for her husband, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Ginni Thomas gained national notoriety after text messages surfaced last month showing she pushed former President Donald Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, in late 2020 to try to overturn the results of the presidential election. The posts prompted top Democrats to call on Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from cases examining the Jan. 6, 2021 riot on Capitol Hill. It also led to calls from Capitol Hill lawmakers to create an official Supreme Court code of conduct. The House select committee investigating what happened on Jan. 6 is reportedly seeking an interview with Ginni Thomas.
A Supreme Court spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment. Attempts to reach Ginni Thomas via an email listed on her website were not returned. The website appears to have been scrubbed since recent reports of its texts with Meadows.
Very little is known about her company, Liberty Consulting, which is listed as an asset on her husband’s Supreme Court disclosures. CNBC was able to find some of his conservative clients by cross-referencing Virginia business records, tax forms, Federal Election Commission filings, personal financial disclosure documents and through interviews with people familiar with his work. Even so, watchdogs say such documents may not fully reveal who she is represented and whether those groups have any ties to cases in court, raising growing calls for more transparency.
“It’s very problematic,” Richard Painter, chief White House ethics counsel in the George W. Bush administration, said in a recent phone interview about Ginni Thomas’ work. Supreme Court rules do not require spouses to publicly disclose how much they earn or whether they work with someone who might have an interest in a Supreme Court case – which could create conflict for her husband and force him to recuse himself from certain cases, Painter said.
Kedric Payne, general counsel for the watchdog Campaign Legal Center, also said that any financial interest related to a judge’s spouse who may go to court could result in the judge’s disqualification.
“The law is clear that a judge whose impartiality is questionable must recuse himself from a case. Matters relating to the financial or other significant interests of a judge’s spouse always raise red flags which may trigger the requirement recusal,” Payne told CNBC. Clarence Thomas has recused himself 54 times since the 1990s, including 17 times to avoid a potential perception of a conflict of interest created by his son, according to the Huffington Post.
Ginni Thomas, in a recent interview with the Washington Free Beacon, dismissed any potential conflicts of interest related to her work. “We have our own careers, and our own ideas and opinions. Clarence doesn’t discuss his work with me, and I don’t involve him in my work,” she recently told the publication. She noted her work for Liberty Consulting in this interview but did not disclose her clients.
Still, Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have said they want to move forward with creating a code of ethics for Supreme Court justices that could include more specific disclosure requirements.
In the case of Ginni Thomas, the court’s financial disclosure forms only show that she receives salary and benefits from her company, without disclosing the details, and it notes the book value of the company.
Located in an unremarkable strip mall in suburban Virginia, Liberty Consulting’s few known clients range from the Center for Security Policy, a nonprofit founded by a conservative activist accused of anti-Muslim rhetoric, to an action committee policy titled FedUp PAC, according to a review. public documents filed by CNBC and researchers at Watchdog Documented. The political action committee backed failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Moore was charged with sexual misconduct and denied any wrongdoing.
The Center for Security Policy was founded by Frank Gaffney Jr., a former Reagan administration defense official who has since been flagged by the Anti-Defamation League for pushing “a number of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories “. Gaffney and the Center for Security Policy were among a group of lawyers who filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court supporting Trump’s travel ban. The center paid Liberty Consulting more than $200,000 over two years, from 2017 to 2018, according to 990 tax disclosure reports from those years. The firm’s work for the Center for Security Policy was first reported by The New Yorker.
Thomas is also believed to have done previous work for companies linked to Conservative court adviser Leonard Leo, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named to speak freely on the matter. Ginni Thomas counts Leo as a mentor, according to The Washington Post. Leo previously served as a director of a conservative nonprofit led by Ginni Thomas named Liberty Central during the administration of former President Barack Obama, according to 990 tax filings. Ginni Thomas once bragged that she wanted the organization to be “bigger than the tea party” and took aim at Obama’s agenda, including the Affordable Care Act, the Post reported.
In 2010, Ginni Thomas earned more than $120,000 as president and CEO of Liberty Central that year, according to a 990 tax return. The association has since been shut down. Clarence Thomas was among the group of Supreme Court justices who dissented in 2012 from the majority opinion, which upheld Obama’s signature health insurance law, the Affordable Care Act, as constitutional. He then sided with the majority to uphold the law against a Republican challenge in 2021.
Leo helped shape the Supreme Court into what it is today, including advising Trump on who is best to choose for the high court. Trump’s court picks among Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett saw support from groups backed by Leo and his allies as they were amid battles in the Senate over their nominations. The Daily Beast reported that CRC Advisors, Leo’s company, has been tasked with promoting a documentary about Clarence Thomas.
Outside groups led by Leo allies have advocated for Trump’s nominees and have since targeted President Joe Biden’s court picks, including Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Like their opposing progressive groups, Leo-linked organizations are known as “dark money” nonprofits that do not reveal their donors to the public. The 85 Fund recently created by Leo is part of his extensive network of organizations that seek to influence policy, judicial appointments and the wider conservative movement.
The FedUp PAC, which is chaired by conservative political advertising veteran Richard Viguerie, paid $5,000 to Liberty Consulting during the 2018 election cycle for what it describes in the PAC filing as a video production. The Liberty Consulting name and address on the Federal Election Commission disclosure matches that of the company headed by Ginni Thomas. The PAC then backed Trump in the 2020 election cycle, spending more than $100,000 to support the then commander-in-chief. Liberty Consulting has not been paid for any work by the PAC this cycle, according to federal campaign disclosure data.
Bob Mills, who is listed as director of super PAC on his website, did not recall the specific work Liberty Consulting did for the organization when he was initially contacted by CNBC and did not respond to questions. follow-up emails requesting more details.
Ginni Thomas’ LinkedIn profile says she has worked since 2010 as Founder and President of Liberty Consulting with “citizen activists, leaders, and nonprofits to achieve success and impact in advocating for the principles that have makes America an exceptional nation – offering strategic advice, building coalitions, connecting people and projects (it’s my passion and my joy!).” Thomas notes on her page that she is not a lobbyist, even though a Virginia state file shows the company was formerly called Liberty Lobby.
Beth Rotman, national director of money in politics and ethics at watchdog Common Cause, told CNBC that new ethics laws governing Supreme Court justices should require them to disclose more details of their spouses’ consulting contracts.
“Disclosure needs to be robust for it to be truly meaningful in this context, so financial disclosures need to include consultancy contracts. As you have already seen, when judges complete their annual reports, they list information who don’t give a full view of their spouse’s financial ties,” Rotman said in an email. “It is essential for meaningful disclosure that the rules are updated to include the source and amount of any spouse’s counseling contracts that exceed a reasonable minimum threshold.”
Leo and representatives of most of the groups mentioned in this story also did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Jan. 6 House Select Committee declined to comment.
While it’s unclear how much Ginni Thomas earned from the consulting firm, Liberty Consulting appeared to see a boom in business ahead of Trump’s 2016 victory.
Clarence Thomas’ financial disclosure reports show that in 2014, the company’s cash market value was worth up to $15,000.
Yet in 2015 and subsequent years, the company’s listed book value surged, according to public disclosures. Thomas’ 2015 disclosure report shows the business was worth between $15,001 and $50,000. It remained at that value until 2019, when the company appears to have had its best year with a book value of between $100,001 and $250,000.
Trump was impeached that year by the Democratic-led House of Representatives for pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to launch an investigation into the US president’s political opponents in the run-up to the 2020 election. was later acquitted by the Senate, which at the time was controlled by Republicans. Trump said the call with Zelenskyy was “perfect” and denied any wrongdoing.
The value of his business fell back to between $15,001 and $50,000 in 2020, the same year Trump lost the White House.