Ginni Thomas’ secret, wealthy benefactors

GINNI THOMAS’ SECRET, WEALTHY BENEFACTORS…. We’ve talked before about the often bizarre right-wing activism of Ginni Thomas, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife. As she sees it, “there’s a war going on against tyranny,” and in her worldview, the tyrants are America’s elected leaders.

There’s certainly room for debate about whether Ginni Thomas, as a private citizen, should be subjected to scrutiny just because of her spouse. One could also debate whether Ginni Thomas is a bit of a nut.

But Jackie Calmes raises a related point today that I hadn’t seen raised elsewhere.

…Mrs. Thomas is the founder and head of a new nonprofit group, Liberty Central, dedicated to opposing what she characterizes as the leftist “tyranny” of President Obama and Democrats in Congress and to “protecting the core founding principles” of the nation. […]

But to some people who study judicial ethics, Mrs. Thomas’s activism is raising knotty questions, in particular about her acceptance of large, unidentified contributions for Liberty Central. She began the group in late 2009 with two gifts of $500,000 and $50,000, and because it is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group, named for the applicable section of the federal tax code, she does not have to publicly disclose any contributors. Such tax-exempt groups are supposed to make sure that less than half of their activities are political.

So, the wife of a Supreme Court justice is receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from secret donors — who may or may not have a case before the high court — she doesn’t have to disclose.

Does this seem kosher to anyone? Unknown entities are generously financing the work of a Supreme Court justice’s spouse, and the public has no idea who’s writing the checks, where the money’s going, whether it might create a conflict of interest, etc.

Indeed, Ginni Thomas is allowed to do all of this, in large part because of a Supreme Court ruling her husband helped decide.

“It’s shocking that you would have a Supreme Court justice sitting on a case that might implicate in a very fundamental way the interests of someone who might have contributed to his wife’s organization,” said Deborah L. Rhode, a law professor and director of the Stanford University Center on the Legal Profession.

“The fact that we can’t find that out is the first problem,” she said, adding, “And how can the public form a judgment about propriety if it doesn’t have the basic underlying facts?”

If the situations were reversed — if a liberal justice’s spouse attacked Republican leaders with hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret donations — I suspect there’d be quite a bit of discomfort on the right.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.