What else haven’t they told us?

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  • Dale Eisman

Questions remain on potential conflicts of interest in Citizens United case; Justice Thomas fails to disclose spouse’s income at Heritage Foundation and Liberty Central

Today’s acknowledgement by Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas that they attended functions sponsored by Koch Industries in 2007 and 2008 is helpful, but does not resolve questions about their possible conflicts of interest in the Citizens United case. In addition, Common Cause research around this issue has revealed a further problem involving Justice Thomas – a repeated failure to disclose his wife’s income in his annual financial disclosure forms.

“Common Cause is concerned about omissions in Justice Thomas’s annual financial disclosures,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “While researching potential conflicts of interest in Citizens United, we discovered apparent gaps over seven years in Justice Thomas’s disclosures of his wife’s earnings.”

According to records filed with the IRS, Virginia “Ginny” Thomas was paid $686,589 by the Heritage Foundation, a think tank, for her work there from 2003-07. Published reports indicate that Ms. Thomas also drew a salary from Liberty Central, a political education and action group she co-founded in 2009.

None of his wife’s earnings are disclosed on Justice Thomas’ annual financial disclosure forms, however. The Ethics in Government Act of 1978 requires federal officials, including Supreme Court justices, to disclose their spouse’s income. On the appropriate section of his 2003 to 2009 disclosure forms, Justice Thomas checked the box for “none.” Click here to view a chart Common Cause compiled on Thomas’s financial disclosures forms reporting no spousal income.

Common Cause will be calling that apparent discrepancy to the attention of the Judicial Conference in a letter to be sent later today.

More information still needed on Koch Industries Retreats

“The public is entitled to more detail about the nature and extent of the justices’ involvement with Koch Industries’ closed-door political strategy sessions,” said Edgar, “And there has been no response to the equally serious concern raised about Justice Thomas’s financial conflict of interest due to his wife’s role as CEO of Liberty Central and its political activities in 2010.”

Charles Koch’s invitation to their 2011 secretive retreat, to be held in Palm Springs on January 30-31, states that the “action-oriented program brings together top experts and leaders to discuss – and offer solutions to counter – the most critical threats to our free society.” It added that past “meetings have featured such notable leaders as Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas,” along with a host conservative leaders and elected officials, like Glenn Beck, Haley Barbour and Jim DeMint.

“That doesn’t exactly square with Thursday’s assertions by a Court spokeswoman,” Edgar said. As reported today by the Los Angeles Times, the spokeswoman stated that the justices attended nearby Federalist Society dinners, but that Scalia did not attend the January 2007 Koch seminar, and that Justice Thomas merely did a “brief drop-by” at the separate Koch meeting sessions.”

In addition, Justice Thomas’s 2008 disclosure form states that he was reimbursed by the Federalist Society for “transportation/meals and accommodations” for a trip to Palm Springs January 26-29. Those dates appear to coincide with the schedule for Koch Industries multi-day retreats, and raise some obvious questions: Did Justice Thomas stay at the same posh resort where the Kochs were holding their event or have more extensive involvement with the event or event participants?

Justice Scalia’s 2007 disclosure form only shows reimbursement by the Federalist Society for “transportation, food and lodging” for Indian Wells, California for a single day, January 29, 2007. His form also shows reimbursement by the Federalist Society for a trip to Beaver Creek, Colorado on September 10-11 of 2007 as well, but we do not know at this time if that was in conjunction with another Koch Industries retreat. The last semi-annual Koch retreat was held in Aspen, Colorado on June 27-28, 2010.