Nonprofit news outlet ProPublica, which published multiple stories detailing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ alleged ethics violations, has many of the same donors as multiple groups actively campaigning for Thomas to be investigated or to resign, according to tax documents reviewed by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Over the past few months, ProPublica has published several investigations into Clarence Thomas’ relationship with his friend, the billionaire real estate developer Harlan Crow. The stories detailed expensive trips Thomas took with Crow, Crow’s purchase of Thomas’ mothers home and Crow’s paying of private school tuition for Thomas’ grandnephew. At the same time, several of ProPublica’s top donors are also major financiers of left-wing groups running campaigns against Thomas. This includes organizations pushing for Thomas to be investigated in the wake of ProPublica’s reporting.
“It is no coincidence that several organizations smearing Justice Thomas are funded generously by many of the same donors,” Parker Thayer, an investigative researcher at Capital Research Center, told the DCNF. “The ‘pop-up’ public pressure campaign, where just a few donors pay dozens of ‘grassroots’ activist groups to give the appearance of broad public support for a particular issue, has long been a favored tactic of the Left’s wealthy special interests.”
The Sandler Foundation, which launched ProPublica in 2007 and is the news outlet’s largest donor, has given it almost $40 million since 2010 for general support. The Sandler Foundation has also given over $7.5 million to the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) since 2015 and over $6 million to American Constitution Society (ACS) for general support since 2010, according to tax forms.
The Sandler Foundation was formed by Herbert and Marion Sandler, who, according to Forbes Magazine, “instituted borrowing practices that were largely blamed for the housing market collapse.” Time Magazine listed the Sandlers among the “25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis.”
CLC wrote a letter to the Judicial Conference in April requesting the body refer Thomas to the Department of Justice (DOJ) “for potential criminal and civil penalties” after ProPublica reported that Thomas did not disclose expense-paid trips he took with Crow—allegations that legal experts told the DCNF did not demonstrate wrongdoing. American Constitution Society President Russ Feingold backed this call for a DOJ investigation in April, and he argued Congress “has a duty to check the Supreme Court” by imposing ethics rules and “rigorously investigating violations of federal law and flagrant ethics lapses.”
ProPublica’s initial report on Thomas quoted experts from both CLC and ACS, including Kedric Payne, senior director for ethics at CLC and retired federal judge Nancy Gertner, who sits on the ACS’ board of directors.
In 2019, the Sandler Foundation also earmarked a $500,000 grant it gave to the New Venture Fund for a group called Demand Justice, which supports court packing and investigating Thomas, according to tax forms.
In April, Demand Justice’s Deputy Chief Counsel Katie O’Connor joined Democratic lawmakers in calling for “immediate ethics reforms” based on ProPublica’s reporting. During the press event, O’Connor called for Thomas’ resignation.
Demand Justice supports adding four seats to the Supreme Court, arguing that its current “6-3 Republican supermajority” is “putting our rights and our democracy at risk.”
“If the Sandler Foundation was willing to give $500,000 to a slimy partisan hit-squad like Demand Justice, why should we believe they didn’t request similar work from ProPublica, to whom they have given substantially more money?” Thayer told the DCNF.
ProPublica president Robin Sparkman told the DCNF the outlet “exposes abuses of power no matter which party is in charge” and receives “philanthropic support from donors of every stripe.”
“More than 40,000 people actively fund our investigative, nonpartisan journalism,” Sparkman said. “Our newsroom operates with fierce independence. No donor or board member is even aware of the subjects of our stories before they are published.”
“ProPublica’s reporting has spotlighted wrongdoing across the private and political arenas for more than 15 years, including unbiased reporting on Republican and Democratic officials harming the environment, gerrymandering, manipulating the tax code and engaging in a long list of corrupt behavior across the country,” Sparkman continued.
ProPublica donors also fund Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). The organization sent a letter to Thomas in May calling on him to resign.
The Silicon Valley Community Foundation gave over $8 million to ProPublica, $60,000 to CLC and $252,200 to CREW between 2014 and 2021, according to tax documents.
The Marisla Foundation has given over $2 million to ProPublica and roughly $1 million to CREW since 2016, tax forms show. The George Soros-backed Foundation to Promote Open Society has given over $3 million to ProPublica, $2.7 million to CLC and $2.5 million to CREW since 2011, tax documents show.
ProPublica’s initial Thomas article quotes Virginia Canter, CREW’s chief ethics counsel, while its article on Thomas’ grandnephew quotes Richard Painter, who joined CREW as Vice Chair in 2016.
“ProPublica seems to be taking marching orders from the same extreme left-wing donors who are also funding other left-wing activist groups making similar attacks on Justices,” Mark Paoletta, a Schaerr Jaffe law firm partner who worked on the confirmations of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, told the DCNF. “It’s all coordinated. ProPublica is just another left-wing attack dog and their motivations are clear.”
Paoletta, who is a close friend of Thomas, was mentioned in several of ProPublica’s reports; his relationship with Harlan Crow, particularly a trip for which he said he later reimbursed Crow, was a subject of ProPublica’s initial story on Thomas and Crow.
Other top ProPublica donors also fund left-wing organizations running campaigns against Thomas. (RELATED: Legal Experts Call Attacks On Clarence Thomas ‘Ridiculous,’ Slam Media Reports As ‘Incomplete’)
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has given nearly $3 million to ProPublica, over $5 million to CLC, $808,000 to ACS and $703,000 to the Alliance For Justice (AFJ) since 2013. AFJ has been a leading voice in the campaign against Thomas and recently launched an ad campaign calling for his resignation.
In 2021, the Hewlett Foundation also gave $175,000 to Fix The Court, a group that advocates for reforms to the Supreme Court, according to documents obtained by the Washington Examiner.
The Ford Foundation gave roughly $20 million to ProPublica, $4.1 million to CLC and $500,000 to ACS between 2013 and 2021. The foundation also gave over $8 million to AFJ, which ran ads calling for Thomas’ resignation, according to tax documents.
The Ford Foundation also funded multiple groups behind campaigns calling for Supreme Court ethics reform in the wake of ProPublica’s reporting. This includes roughly $42 million to the Center for Popular Democracy and over $23 million to the National Women’s Law Center, according to tax documents.
The Marisla Foundation, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Foundation to Promote Open Society, CLC, ACS, Demand Justice, CREW, Alliance For Justice, Center for Popular Democracy and the National Women’s Law Center did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Sandler Foundation could not be reached for comment.