Leonard Leo Pushed the Courts Right. Now He’s Aiming at American Society.

Many of the initiatives have been financially supported, or in some circumstances launched, by an opaque, sprawling community formed by Mr. Leo and funded by rich patrons, normally by means of nameless donations that critics name “darkish cash.”

An investigation by The New York Instances of Mr. Leo’s actions reveals new particulars of how he has constructed that community, with comparatively little public consideration, into one of many best-funded and most subtle operations in American politics, giving him extraordinary affect as he pushes a broad array of hot-button conservative causes and seeks to counter what he sees as an growing leftward tilt in society.

The community represents a dramatic growth of ways and focus for Mr. Leo, who spent practically three a long time working principally behind the scenes to tug the judiciary to the appropriate as an govt on the Federalist Society. His success in that effort, and growth into different polarizing fights, is quickly making him a number one goal of criticism from the left.

His philosophy is outlined by a perception that the federal authorities ought to play a smaller position in public life and spiritual values a bigger one, and that establishments and people must be challenged for embracing what he sees as subversive liberal positions.

Whereas his efforts to place conservatives on the courts discovered a strong ally in President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Leo, an Ivy League-educated lawyer, has steered away from probably the most virulent strains of Mr. Trump’s right-wing populism, in addition to his baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, and he has navigated previous a lot of the fissures within the Republican Occasion.

Amongst main political figures, Mr. Leo is extra aligned with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who as Republican chief within the Senate has labored with him intently on judicial nominations and shares an animus for laws restricting the flow of money into politics.

Mr. Leo’s method blends cutting-edge political financing methods — a few of which he says are copied from the left — with deep connections to the Republican institution and a willingness to harness a few of the culture-war points animating the bottom.

Mr. Leo had begun quietly constructing the brand new operation in 2016, however its scope and depth ramped up considerably when he stepped down in January 2020 from day-to-day management of the Federalist Society and shifted his consideration to constructing the conservative advocacy and donor community full time.

The community is made up of a loosely affiliated and evolving set of nonprofit and for-profit entities, by means of which Mr. Leo helps increase large sums of cash from donors, steers the money to teams selling points he helps after which shapes the ensuing initiatives.

To assist administer the enterprise, the community’s nonprofits, together with the 85 Fund and Harmony Fund, have paid hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in consulting charges to non-public companies during which he has a monetary curiosity, like CRC Advisors and the BH Group, enriching Mr. Leo within the course of.

The community’s 9 core teams have spent practically $504 million on coverage and political fights, together with grants to about 150 allied teams, between mid-2015 and final 12 months, with roughly half of that spending since mid-2019, in response to an evaluation by The Instances of dozens of tax filings. And his efforts have been turbocharged by an uncommon $1.6 billion infusion from a Chicago electronics manufacturing magnate in late 2020 that was revealed by The Times this 12 months, giving Mr. Leo the money to match his ambitions going ahead.

At a time when a few of the most influential monetary supporters of the Republican Occasion have shifted their focus or been diminished, Mr. Leo’s community is shaping the conservative motion with choices about which causes, teams and politicians get funded.

His affect stems largely from the credibility he constructed with conservative donors and politicians throughout his decades-long campaign to place conservatives on the federal bench, most obvious in Supreme Courtroom choices this 12 months that eliminated the constitutional right to abortion and limited a crucial federal government tool to fight climate change.

His expanded effort focuses on quite a lot of causes, together with proscribing abortion rights within the states; ending affirmative action; defending religious groups accused of discriminating towards L.G.B.T.Q. individuals; opposing what he sees as liberal insurance policies being espoused by companies and colleges; electing Republicans; and preventing Democratic efforts to slow climate change, enhance the transparency of cash in politics and expand voting access.

“The thought behind the community and the enterprise we constructed is to roll again liberal dominance in lots of vital sectors of American life,” Mr. Leo stated in an interview final month. “I had a few a long time or extra of expertise rolling again liberal dominance within the authorized tradition, and I assumed it was time to take the teachings discovered from that and see whether or not there was a option to roll again liberal dominance in different areas of American cultural, coverage and political life.”

Since 2016, the grant-making hubs in his community and the recipients of their cash have paid greater than $30 million to the companies owned at the very least partly by Mr. Leo, CRC Advisors and BH Group, in response to the Instances evaluation. It reveals that he additionally has been paid greater than $2.7 million in private wage and consulting charges throughout roughly that point interval by nonprofit teams within the community and their grantees, together with greater than $2.2 million from the Federalist Society, the place he stays co-chairman.

For these upset by the growing circulate of darkish cash into politics and rightward drift of the Supreme Courtroom — critics embody each his neighbors in an idyllic seaside Maine city and the president of america — Mr. Leo has develop into a boogeyman.

In calling for Senate passage of laws to extend disclosure of darkish cash spending, Mr. Biden singled out Mr. Leo final month because the personification of “a significant issue going through our democracy” whereby cash “flows within the shadows to affect our elections.”

With out naming Mr. Leo, the president referred to “a conservative activist who spent, as was his proper, a long time working to place sufficient conservative justices on the Supreme Courtroom to overturn Roe v. Wade” and who “now has entry to $1.6 billion in darkish cash to do extra injury and — from our perspective — and limit extra freedoms.”

The invoice went right down to defeat in a procedural vote during which each Republican voted with their chief, Mr. McConnell of Kentucky, who in a speech on the Senate flooring accused Democrats of attempting “to erode the First Modification and make political speech harder.”

In an interview later, Mr. McConnell praised Mr. Leo’s “potential to draw vital assets to the right-of-center world.” He known as Mr. Leo’s plans “fairly formidable,” including: “That feels like reworking society, which isn’t straightforward. However look, I’ve loads of confidence in his judgment and his convictions.”

The ambition, ways and affect of Mr. Leo’s community are illustrated by its marketing campaign to punish a few of the nation’s largest companies for pushing environmental, social and governance causes, often called E.S.G., that usually align with a Democratic agenda.

The marketing campaign has been pushed by two teams — Shoppers’ Analysis and the State Monetary Officers Basis — that got here to the problem comparatively lately and have helped elevate it within the Republican Party. Each teams are purchasers of CRC Advisors, a agency with about 80 workers that Mr. Leo co-founded in January 2020, constructing on an earlier operation run by his allies for a few years, that helps teams within the community increase cash and execute their methods.

Shoppers’ Analysis dates back to the 1930s, when it centered on figuring out and publicizing faulty or unsafe client merchandise. It had gone largely dormant by the early 2000s, but it surely was resuscitated a decade later as a Republican-aligned group working partly to topple federal environmental legal guidelines, utilizing hundreds of thousands of {dollars} from donors with connections to Mr. Leo.

Amongst them, in response to information obtained in a hack of a foundation and analyzed by the progressive researcher Lisa Graves, was Barre Seid, the Chicago electronics magnate. In late 2020, Mr. Seid donated his firm to Marble Freedom Belief, one of many nonprofits managed by Mr. Leo. The belief bought the corporate in March 2021, reaping greater than $1.6 billion in proceeds.

About two months later, Shoppers’ Analysis started an anti-E.S.G. marketing campaign on which it says it has spent practically $10 million — greater than it had spent within the earlier seven years mixed.

The marketing campaign was launched underneath the stewardship of Will Hild, a former Federalist Society official who’s near Mr. Leo and have become govt director of Shoppers’ Analysis in 2020. He wouldn’t say the place the group’s sudden inflow of money got here from. However an individual concerned in Mr. Leo’s community stated it offered at the very least a few of the cash — funding that has not been beforehand reported.

Mr. Leo has no formal position with Shoppers’ Analysis, however Mr. Hild, in an e-mail, known as him an “adviser to the group.” Mr. Leo stated “the woke capitalism battle is a really excessive precedence for me, and I’m very enthusiastic about what Shoppers’ Analysis is doing.”

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The group paid about $113,000 for public-relations consulting to CRC Advisors in 2020, earlier than the beginning of the anti-E.S.G. marketing campaign, in response to a tax submitting.

Shoppers’ Analysis was listed this year as a top donor to the State Monetary Officers Basis, a little-known nonprofit group based mostly in Shawnee, Kan.

The inspiration has helped coordinate efforts by Republican state treasurers to withdraw authorities pension funds from funding companies that concentrate on E.S.G. initiatives.

Mr. Hild has spoken on the basis’s conferences about China and E.S.G., and this 12 months, the muse instructed allies that it had employed CRC Advisors, which labored with the treasurers’ workplaces to facilitate media protection of the efforts to discourage E.S.G. investing, in response to emails reviewed by The Instances that have been obtained by means of public data requests by the left-leaning investigative watchdog group Documented.

It’s tough to hint the assist from Mr. Leo’s community and CRC for the anti-E.S.G. marketing campaign. Filings which may make clear it possible is not going to develop into public till subsequent month or probably subsequent 12 months. Even then, the circulate of money could possibly be obscured since darkish cash is usually routed by means of a number of entities.

CRC Advisors has company purchasers as effectively, although little is thought about them, as a result of there are fewer disclosure necessities. In a single case, the agency appears to have unintentionally revealed a client — the oil big Chevron — that might profit from the marketing campaign towards environmental commitments by different companies.

Invoice Turenne, a spokesman for Chevron, stated the corporate has “communications advisory relationships” with CRC and “quite a few companies.”

A specific focus of the anti-E.S.G. marketing campaign has been BlackRock, the world’s largest asset supervisor, which has been on the forefront of an effort to push firms to reply to local weather change by decreasing carbon emissions.

Shoppers’ Analysis has spent hundreds of thousands of {dollars} on promoting accusing BlackRock of “propping up Chinese Communist leaders,” having a hand in “soaring gas prices” by urging power firms to divest from fossil fuels and contributing to “outrageous housing costs” by buying up single-family homes as rental properties.

In December, Shoppers’ Analysis despatched a letter to the governors of the ten states with the biggest pension fund investments in BlackRock, warning that the agency’s business in China, which has drawn criticism from throughout the political spectrum, is “placing American safety in danger, together with billions of {dollars} from U.S. traders.”

Three weeks later, one of many recipients of the letter, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a leading figure in conservative politics, ordered an audit of his state’s investments in Chinese language property. And in August, he and different state officers authorized a resolution directing the state’s fund managers to take a position to maximise returns, and to not take E.S.G. standards into consideration.

In Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Utah and West Virginia, Republican officers have taken steps to pull hundreds of millions of dollars of state authorities investments from BlackRock, and officers in different states are contemplating actions towards the corporate.

In Congress, Republicans are pledging hearings and investigations into BlackRock and different firms touting E.S.G. insurance policies subsequent 12 months in the event that they take management of 1 or each chambers in November.

“Shoppers’ Analysis does nice work, and I depend on them steadily,” stated Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, referencing quite a few targets of the group that he has criticized — together with firms that pushed for emissions reductions and objected to a Republican election law in Georgia, in addition to BlackRock and its investments in China.

BlackRock has shaped inner working teams to find out the right way to reply. Its chief govt, Laurence D. Fink, held meetings this year with oil companies BlackRock has invested in, and has clarified that he sees decreasing carbon emissions as a gradual course of.

Brian Beades, a spokesman for BlackRock, known as the marketing campaign “politically pushed misinformation,” pushing again on claims in regards to the agency’s involvement within the housing market and climate change efforts. He added, “We aren’t going to permit darkish cash actors with a political agenda to cease us from doing the appropriate factor for our purchasers.”

Different targets of Shoppers’ Analysis have included Coca-Cola and Ticketmaster, which came under fire final 12 months after they or their parent companies objected to a Republican election law in Georgia that positioned limits on absentee and drop-box voting.

Mr. Cotton stated he anticipated Republicans would search to carry oversight hearings to find out whether or not company E.S.G. efforts have been working afoul of antitrust legal guidelines.

“To the extent the Republican Occasion ever was extra intently aligned with large enterprise, these days are lengthy since previous,” he stated.

The assaults on companies are paying homage to a memo written in the early 1970s for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by the longer term Supreme Courtroom Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. He argued that to offset a leftward tilt in “the school campus, the pulpit, the media, the mental and literary journals, the humanities and sciences and from politicians,” the enterprise neighborhood wanted to fund conservative political establishments.

Now, although, influential conservatives imagine the Chamber of Commerce and large enterprise are no longer reliable backers of Republicans.

“If you begin wanting throughout America — at enterprise, media, schooling and many the opposite main establishments — you see a sample of liberal dominance,” Mr. Leo stated. “And a few of these establishments had a robust liberal presence on the time Powell wrote his memo, however the dominance was not as pervasive and never as widespread as it’s immediately.”

Raised in an observant Catholic household in New Jersey, Mr. Leo discovered his calling whereas enrolled at Cornell College’s legislation faculty, the place he shaped a chapter of the Federalist Society in 1989. Its mission was to push again on what its founders noticed because the leftward tilt of American legislation colleges.

After a clerkship on the U.S. Courtroom of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and a stint serving to with the Supreme Courtroom affirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas, whom he had gotten to know on the appeals courtroom, Mr. Leo went to work for the Federalist Society full time in 1991.

Below Mr. Leo’s management, the group attracted funding from a few of the largest donors on the appropriate.

Mr. Leo worked closely with President George W. Bush’s White House, together with on efforts to substantiate the Supreme Courtroom nominees, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and John G. Roberts Jr., each of whom had ties to the Federalist Society. And Mr. Leo teamed up with Mr. McConnell, then the Senate majority chief, and different Senate Republicans, to oppose the confirmation of President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick B. Garland, who’s now serving as legal professional normal, to fill a Supreme Courtroom emptiness.

Whereas Mr. Leo was working to maintain the seat vacant, he was assembly behind closed doorways with Mr. Trump, who was then closing in on the Republican presidential nomination. Two months later, Mr. Trump would launch an inventory of Supreme Courtroom candidates developed by Mr. Leo, a transfer that Mr. McConnell later said “reassured loads of skeptical Republicans” about Mr. Trump.

However even because the 2016 election performed out, Mr. Leo was beginning to construct political infrastructure to develop his affect no matter who gained the presidency, organising three nonprofits to gather and disseminate funds from rich donors, in addition to the for-profit consulting agency BH Group.

When Mr. Trump gained the White Home, Mr. Leo joined the transition group, BH Group donated $1 million to the inaugural committee and Mr. Leo suggested on judicial nominees for an administration that might give conservatives a 6-3 majority within the Supreme Courtroom.

As Mr. Leo’s position in reshaping the Supreme Courtroom constructed his credibility and profile amongst conservatives, one thing of a vacuum was growing on the big-money proper. The industrialist Charles G. Koch, who as soon as led probably the most influential main donor infrastructure community, expressed regret for years of backing Republicans, and his operation emphasised a bipartisan push for leniency in the criminal justice system.

Among the get together’s prime donors — leery of serving to Mr. Trump but in addition involved about invoking his ire — have been both recalibrating their giving or scaling again, and one of many get together’s largest donors, Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas on line casino magnate, died last year. The Nationwide Rifle Affiliation has been weakened by legal problems.

In 2018, Mr. Leo began the Rule of Legislation Belief, a nonprofit funding hub. Briefly order, it acquired $80 million in untraceable money.

Then, in January 2020, with Mr. Trump headed into a troublesome re-election marketing campaign, Mr. Leo went public as the head of the new network, although particulars have been scant. He stepped down as day-to-day chief of the Federalist Society and joined CRC Advisors as a companion and chairman.

Across the similar time, two different teams that he had labored with on affirmation fights — the Judicial Training Mission and a gaggle that had been often called the Judicial Disaster Community — modified their names to the 85 Fund and the Harmony Fund. The change appeared to mirror a broadening of their focus past the courts.

Mr. Leo doesn’t have an official position within the 85 Fund or the Harmony Fund, however for the reason that starting of 2016, they paid greater than $7.4 million to the BH Group, and greater than $41 million to CRC.

Some conservative operatives have grumbled about what they really feel is an expectation that they’ve to rent CRC as a situation of getting cash from Mr. Leo’s community, and say that in some circumstances he has boxed out different teams from elevating cash from donors with whom he’s shut — complaints that individuals in Mr. Leo’s community reject.

Some allies of Mr. Trump privately complain that Mr. Leo’s unwillingness to embrace the false declare that the election was stolen hindered their potential to signal prime attorneys and companies to litigate the problem. They’re intently watching Mr. Leo for indicators that he or his community would possibly align behind a Republican challenger to Mr. Trump in 2024.

Mr. Leo’s allies say he’ll assist the get together’s nominee, no matter who it’s.

Mr. Leo’s community has not been shy about taking over critics in Washington, like Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, who has repeatedly spotlighted him in speeches, together with one last month during which he described Mr. Leo as “the little spider that you just discover on the heart of the darkish cash net.”

However as Mr. Leo has develop into extra outstanding, the scrutiny additionally has hit nearer to residence. Over the summer time, there have been weekly demonstrations outdoors his mansion on the Maine coast the place he and a restricted legal responsibility firm linked to him have bought practically $5 million value of property in recent times, in response to authorities data and interviews.

Mr. Leo has known as the police on the protesters, and his employed safety group has filmed members. The guards have accompanied him when he walked his canine or ventured out. A younger man who yelled obscenities at Mr. Leo whereas he was strolling together with his household on the town was subsequently charged with disorderly conduct whereas taking part in a single such protest.

Early on a Monday morning final month, Mr. Leo was noticed together with one of many safety guards outdoors his residence the place messages had been written in chalk on the road in the course of the earlier evening’s protest, together with “Soiled cash lives right here.”

Mr. Leo was bent on the waist, scrawling in chalk the names of girls who the native newspaper had recognized as members within the protests. Mr. Leo instructed folks that he was exercising his First Modification rights.

One of many protesters, Bettina Richards, stated she occurred to jog previous whereas Mr. Leo was writing the checklist of names, which included her personal. Mr. Leo didn’t acknowledge her, she stated, although the guard waved and wished her a great morning.

Ms. Richards, 57, stated she was shocked that Mr. Leo had felt compelled to take up a chunk of chalk.

“You may have $1.6 billion to be throwing round — don’t you have got greater issues to do along with your day?” she stated she puzzled. “You’ll be able to write my identify everywhere in the highway. I’m not embarrassed to be objecting to your positions.”

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