February 14, 2011
Clerk of the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
One First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20543
Dear Mr. Suter,
Common Cause submitted a letter to the Department of Justice on January 19th raising questions about whether Justices Thomas or Scalia had attended closed-door strategy and fundraising sessions sponsored by Koch Industries. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Court’s response was as follows:
Supreme Court spokesperson Kathy Arberg said that Justices Thomas and Scalia had traveled to Indian Wells, California to address a Federalist Society dinner sponsored by Charles and Elizabeth Koch but did not actively participate in the separate Koch strategy and policy meetings. Justice Scalia spoke about international law at the January 2007 meeting of the quasi-academic Federalist Society and did not attend the separate political and strategy meeting hosted by the Kochs, she said. Justice Thomas spoke to the Federalists at the same location in January 2008 about his recently published book. Thomas then dropped by one of the separate Koch meeting sessions. "It was a brief drop by," Arberg said. "He was not a participant."
Unfortunately, the Court’s response raises more questions than it answers.
On his financial disclosure forms for 2008, Justice Thomas reported reimbursement from the Federalist Society for “transportation/meals and accommodations” for four days in Palm Springs, January 26-29, 2008.
This is problematic when matched against the Court’s response. If Justice Thomas received a four-day all-expenses-paid trip to Palm Springs in January 2008 just to give a speech at a dinner, the bulk of his expenses should have been reported as a gift. Under the Ethics in Government Act, a “gift” covers any payment or any thing of value “unless consideration of equal or greater value is received by the donor.” 5 U.S.C App. § 109(5). Receiving three nights’ accommodations plus meals in a popular resort area far exceeds the value of speaking at a dinner, and is inappropriate for a “reimbursement.”
Furthermore, a review of the Federalist Society’s extensive on-line archives produces no record of any Federalist Society event in Palm Springs on those dates. When Common Cause called the Federalist Society to inquire further, staff members could not recall any corresponding event.
With all due respect, if Justice Thomas’s trip to Palm Springs on January 26-29, 2008 was not a gift from the Federalist Society, it is incumbent on the Court to provide the public with a full accounting of what events Justice Thomas was being reimbursed to attend and whether he stayed in the same resort where the Koch Industries conference was held.
Koch Industries has been holding its semi-annual strategy and fundraising sessions in Palm Springs for the past eight years, and Justice Thomas’s trip to Palm Springs appears to precisely align with the profile set by this year’s 4-day session on the last weekend of January.
Common Cause respectfully requests further clarification on this matter.
President and CEO
Arn H. Pearson, Esq.
Vice President for Programs
cc: Kathleen Arberg