March 4, 2023

Lisa Graves & Alyssa Bowen: Tax Docs Link Right-Wing “Parents Group” to Leonard Leo’s Dark Money Network

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At Truthout, this pair of reporters delves into the real money behind some parental rights activist groups.

Their focus is Parents Defending Education, the group that claims to depend on local parent dues for its funding. But research, including work done by Maurice Cunningham, shows that those dues “barely covered the bonus” that PDE chief Nicole Neily paid herself in 2021. Neily is a seasoned operative long associated with Koch funded groups.

That’s not all. PDE’s second-highest paid employee, Asra Nomani, who has targeted Virginia schools while often being portrayed simply as a “Fairfax County mom,” received more than $118,000 in total compensation that first year. That left little more than $200,000 for the other 10 employees PDE reported having in 2021, meaning that Neily’s bonus alone was probably more than most of the other employees were paid that year.

Then there’s the fundraising. PDE hired a firm called Active Engagement to do that task. The firm was paid more than $371,000 in 2021, and raised a lot less, about $153,000, although its full fee could be for work in 2022 as well. That firm was created by Richard Norman, a member of the Council for National Policy, a conservative Christian/Catholic group that works with legal activist Leonard Leo and other operatives like Ginni Thomas to advance the right-wing agenda on schools and other issues nationally and at the state level.

As Cunningham noted, one of the biggest recipients of the secret money PDE raised was the law firm of Consovoy McCarthy, which received $800,000 in legal fees. That Arlington, Virginia, law firm also has attorneys in other cities, like Salt Lake City, where one of its partners is Tyler Green, one of only three trustees listed for Marble Freedom Trust. In late 2022, The New York Times and ProPublica reported that Marble is the vehicle through which secretive manufacturing mogul Barre Seid gave Leo more than $1.6 billion in 2020 to influence U.S. politics and policy for years to come. That’s the largest known donation of its kind in history.

Green, who clerked for Clarence Thomas on the U.S. Supreme Court, represented PDE in its efforts to get emails from the Salt Lake City School District. The portion of PDE’s legal fee to Consovoy related to this particular representation is unknown; Consovoy lawyers filed several legal actions across the country on behalf of PDE.

What is known is that, in creating Marble Freedom Trust, Leo chose only two other people he trusted to play a role in the mammoth fund as trustees, with Green the designated “administrative trustee” and Jonathan Bunch listed as the successor trustee, while Leo maintains sole authority to direct the funds Seid passed to him. In the short time Marble Freedom Trust has been in existence, Leo has filtered some of its funds through Donors Trust and the Schwab Charitable Fund, among others, which helps obscure the sources of funding then passed on to other Leo-endorsed groups. The use of such conduits can obscure the ultimate beneficiaries of funding from Leo or his backers.

There’s more. Read the full article here. 

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