It's Easy to Peddle Influence Under the Radar in Washington

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

A mystery about the forces behind a $1 million donation to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee has been solved, and it’s reportedly linked to a group of legal activists, including two people who are advising Donald Trump on judicial selection.


According to McClatchy:

The $1 million inaugural gift came from a Northern Virginia company called BH Group, LLC. Unlike other generous corporate inaugural donors, like Bank of America and Dow Chemical, though, BH Group was a cipher, and likely was set up solely to prevent disclosure of the actual donor’s name.


While the source of the money used to make the gift was masked from the public, a trail of clues puts the contribution at the doorstep of some of the same actors — most notably Leonard Leo, an executive vice president at the conservative Federalist Society — who have helped promote Trump’s mission, and that of his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to fill judicial vacancies as quickly as he can with staunchly conservative, preferably young jurists.

While McClatchy points out that Leo himself probably wasn’t the money behind the donation, his work with the Federalist Society—a conservative legal association which counts among its membership three of the nine current Supreme Court Justices—has connected him to some powerful donors, which includes the Koch brothers, the United States Chamber of Commerce, Walmart, and Pfizer.

Leo listed “BH Group,” the mysterious company behind the donation, as his employer in campaign donation made to Jay Webber, a state legislator in New Jersey who’s running for Congress. The BH Group was registered to an address in Arlington, VA, and made the $1 million dollar donation on December 22, 2016.

The BH Group, whatever it is, is getting its money in some pretty sketchy ways. McClatchy reports:

Another connection to the BH Group was revealed in November 2017, when a politically active nonprofit called the Wellspring Committee filed tax documents showing a $750,000 payment to the newly-minted firm for “Public Relations.”

That’s a substantial payment, particularly given that the BH Group does not appear to have marketed itself as a public relations firm. The group doesn’t seem to have a website or any listings that advertise its services.

Similarly, the Wellspring Committee is a notoriously secretive Virginia nonprofit, with no demonstrable public-facing operations, no website for publicizing them and only three employees.


According to McClatchy, Leo is “directly involved” in the Wellspring Committee’s fundraising efforts. That group, McClatchy reports, has just one board member, Neil Corkery. Corkery’s wife, Ann Corkery, was cited in a New York Times as profile of Leo in March 2017 as a key member of the team picking judges to put in front of Trump. (According to McClatchy, neither Leo nor the Corkerys responded to requests for comment. Neither did Wellspring.)

Leo’s influence on Trump’s judicial selection can’t be overstated. He was cited by Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch as the reason he came to Trump’s attention in Gorsuch’s questionnaire submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee ahead of his confirmation. The Times wrote:

Mr. Leo has been at the center of Mr. Trump’s judicial selection process since last spring, when Donald F. McGahn II, Mr. Trump’s campaign lawyer and now the White House counsel, introduced them. It helped enormously that Mr. Leo came to the campaign at a critical time of need.


So in May, in an unprecedented move for a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump shrewdly released the first of two lists of people he was considering to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Scalia, at first with help from Mr. Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation. Judge Gorsuch’s name was added in a second version of this list, with Mr. Trump thanking the Federalist Society and Heritage for their help.


Mr. Trump gave broad discretion to Mr. Leo and his colleagues. Mr. Trump’s most important criterion, these lawyers said, was that he wanted judges who were “not weak” and of “high quality.”


“Young is good,” Leo told the Times last March. “There will be an opportunity for a transformation of the federal bench.” Over the past year it’s already happening: Trump appointed 12 judges to the federal appellate bench last year, the most ever for a president in his first year (Obama only appointed three in his first year, for comparison), and is on pace to easily surpass that total this year with seven judges already confirmed this year.

One of those new judges is Kyle Duncan, who was the lead counsel for Hobby Lobby in the Supreme Court case which found that “closely held corporations” could use a religious exemption to get out of covering female employees’ birth control.


The case of the inaugural donation shows just how easy it is to use dark money to peddle influence in Washington. Which, apart from being disheartening enough in itself, is further evidence for how extraordinarily stupid the majority of the grifters in Trump’s orbit are.

News editor, Splinter