Biggest GOP donation ever: Right-winger funneled $1.6B to operative behind Supreme Court takeover

A little-known megadonor used a shady dark-money scheme to funnel cash to Federalist Society's Leonard Leo

Published August 22, 2022 11:30AM (EDT)

Leonard Leo speaks at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC on April 23, 2019.  (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Leonard Leo speaks at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC on April 23, 2019. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

The Republican Party has had its share of ultra-wealthy donors. But according to New York Times reporters Kenneth P. Vogel and Shane Goldmacher, the most generous GOP donation of 2021 came from "electronics manufacturing mogul" Barre Seid.

In 2021, Vogel and Goldmacher report, Seid donated a whopping $1.6 billion dollars to a group led by Republican activist and Federalist Society Co-Chairman Leonard A. Leo.

"This windfall will help cement Mr. Leo's status as a kingmaker in conservative big money politics," Vogel and Goldmacher report in a Times article published on August 22. "It could also give conservatives an advantage in a type of difficult-to-trace spending that shapes elections and political fights. The cash infusion was arranged through an unusual series of transactions that appear to have avoided tax liabilities. It originated with Mr. Seid, a long-time conservative donor who made a fortune as the chairman and chief executive of an electrical device manufacturing company in Chicago now known as Tripp Lite."

The reporters add, "The nonprofit, called the Marble Freedom Trust, then received all of the proceeds from the sale, in a transaction that appears to have been structured to allow the nonprofit group and Mr. Seid to avoid paying taxes on the proceeds."

In a tweet posted on August 22, Vogel emphasized just how big Seid's donation was. Vogel wrote, "When I describe this as 'likely the biggest single political donation,' I mean biggest EVER. Like in the history of US politics."

Vogel and Goldmacher explain, "For perspective, the $1.6 billion that the Marble trust reaped from the sale is slightly more than the total of $1.5 billion spent in 2020 by 15 of the most politically active nonprofit organizations that generally align with Democrats, according to an analysis by The Times. That spending, which Democrats embraced to aid the campaigns of Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and his allies in Congress, dwarfed the roughly $900 million spent by a comparable sample of 15 of the most politically active groups aligned with the Republican Party."

According to Vogel and Goldmacher, the Marble Freedom Trust "could help conservatives level the playing field — if not surpass the left — in such nonprofit spending, which is commonly referred to as dark money because the groups involved can raise and spend unlimited sums on politics while revealing little about where they got the money or how they spent it."

"The Marble Freedom Trust's formation in May 2020, the donation of Tripp Lite shares by Mr. Seid, and Mr. Leo's role have not been previously reported," Vogel and Goldmacher note. "The funds are difficult to trace through public records. Tripp Lite is a private company that is not subject to corporate disclosure rules for public companies. On its tax filing, Marble indicated that the $1.6 billion came from the 'sale of gifted company and subsidiaries,' but indicated that it withheld identifying information 'to protect donor confidentiality.' And Eaton, the publicly traded Irish company that bought Tripp Lite, does not refer to Marble in statements related to the sale."

Campaign finance reform suffered a major blow in the United States in 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its widely criticized 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Defining political contributions as a form of "speech," the Citizens United ruling gutted restrictions on the size of campaign donations and, critics say, paved the way for a flood of "dark money" into political races.

By Alex Henderson

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