ProPublica reported on Thursday that Thomas had received vacations, including a previously unreported trip on a yacht around the Bahamas, as well as 26 private jet flights and eight helicopter flights, among other gifts.
Thomas, who is the longest-serving member of the current Supreme Court, has previously faced calls for an investigation into his relationship with billionaire Harlan Crow and demands that he face impeachment.
ProPublica reported that Thomas had received gifts from three other billionaires. They are Berkshire Hathaway executive David Sokol; oil businessman Paul "Tony" Novelly; and H. Wayne Huizenga, who helped to grow Blockbuster.
The outlet also said that Thomas may have violated the law by failing to disclose flights, yacht cruises and sports tickets, citing ethics experts.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) recently appeared on MSNBC’s Lawrence O'Donnell show and lamented the whole Clarence Thomas RV acquisition deal, saying it was suspicious and raised significant tax questions that needed to be answered.
The senator did not detail his tax concerns, so let me.
According to the New York Times, Justice Thomas paid $267,230 in November 1999, for a used Prevost Marathon recreational vehicle, which the Times described as a "condo on wheels" and the “Rolls Royce of motor coaches."
The Times further quoted Thomas as telling friends that "he scrimped and saved" to make his dream purchase.
However, the Times discovered that Anthony Welters — a longtime friend of Thomas’s and a wealthy executive at United Health — provided at least some of the financing. It’s unclear exactly how much, but the Times outlined Thomas’s existing debt at the time and quoted experts saying he would have been unlikely to get a conventional bank loan for the luxury purchase.
Welters told the Times: "Twenty-five years ago, I loaned a friend money … He used it to buy a recreational vehicle, which is a passion of his.” Roughly nine years later, he said, "the loan was satisfied."
Welters further provided the Times with a copy of a purported lien release dated Nov. 22, 2008. Yet, until recently, Fairfax County, Va., still listed Welters as the lienholder.
If there was a legitimate loan, then a valid loan agreement — with an interest rate and repayment schedule — should be available to peruse, but none was forthcoming when the Times requested it.
Also, a potential six-figure loan to a Justice of the Supreme Court likely should have compelled the reporting of such a large liability on the annual disclosure form required of each member of the Court — especially if the terms were not what one would expect from a commercial loan. Nor has Thomas disclosed the RV or any part of its financing as a gift, which would be required under a number of circumstances, particularly if portions of the private loan had been forgiven.
Something smells in Denmark — or at least in the Virginia driveway of Justice Thomas.
Months later, the Supreme Court in June indeed struck down the student-debt relief, with Thomas voting in the majority. Sokol told ProPublica that he has "never once discussed any pending court matter" with Thomas.
"Our conversations have always revolved around helping young people, sports, and family matters," he said.
This is not the first time Thomas has come under fire for accepting undisclosed gifts from billionaires. In April, ProPublica published a separate investigation on the luxury trips Thomas was gifted by Harlan Crow, a Republican megadonor, to which Thomas released a statement saying that he "sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable."
“Unprecedented. Stunning. Disgusting. The height of hypocrisy to wear the robes of a [supreme court justice] and take undisclosed gifts from billionaires who benefit from your decisions. 38 free vacations. Yachts. Luxury mansions. Skyboxes at events. Resign,” she posted.
From the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic judiciary committee chair, said: “The latest … revelation of unreported lavish gifts to Justice Clarence Thomas makes it clear: these are not merely ethical lapses. This is a shameless lifestyle underwritten for years by a gaggle of fawning billionaires.”
The ProPublica report followed extensive previous reporting, by the non-profit and competitors including the New York Times, of undisclosed gifts to Thomas from a series of mega-rich donors.
Supreme court justices are nominally subject to ethics rules for federal judges but in practice govern themselves.
Durbin said Thomas and Samuel Alito, another arch-conservative justice who did not declare gifts, had “made it clear they’re oblivious to the embarrassment they’ve visited on the highest court in the land.
“Now it’s up to Chief Justice [John] Roberts and the other justices to act on ethics reform to save their own reputations and the court’s integrity. If the court will not act, then Congress must continue to” do so.
Whitehouse Responds to Newest ProPublica Report Detailing Breadth of Secret Billionaire-Funded Gifts to Justice Thomas
Providence, RI – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Courts Subcommittee, today released the following statement after another bombshell report published by ProPublica further exposed the breadth of undisclosed billionaire-funded gifts to Justice Thomas:
“Clearly there is a lot more we still don’t know about the extent to which right-wing billionaires have underwritten Justice Thomas’s billionaire-like lifestyle over the years. From fossil fuels to hedge funds, these billionaires’ fortunes were made in industries regularly affected by the Court’s rulings. There may have been a time when the honor system worked well enough for the American people to trust in the ethics of the justices, but that trust has been squandered. Congress needs to pass my ethics bill and root out the billionaire infiltration of the Roberts Court.”
Whitehouse has long been the Senate’s leading voice for improving transparency and accountability at the Supreme Court. Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed Whitehouse’s Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act, legislation that would help restore the American public’s sinking trust in the Supreme Court by fortifying regulations regarding judicial conflicts of interest and recusal. The bill was endorsed by The New York Times editorial board.
The SCERT Act would end the practice of Supreme Court justices judging their own conflicts of interest, require better disclosure and transparency so the public knows when a justice has a connection to a party or amicus before the Court, and require judges to explain their recusal decisions to the public.
Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921
"Iraq snapshot" (THE COMMON ILLS):
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito is facing growing calls to recuse himself from a case that could hamstring Congress' ability to enact a federal wealth tax, a policy that progressive lawmakers and economists say is needed to rein in out-of-control inequality.
Late last week, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter urging Chief Justice John Roberts to "take appropriate steps to ensure that Justice Alito will recuse himself" from Moore v. United States, which the Supreme Court recently agreed to take up.
The lawmakers' demand was prompted by a friendly interview that Alito gave to The Wall Street Journal's opinion section, which in June allowed the right-wing justice to get out in front of a ProPublicastory on his luxury trip with billionaire hedge fund titan Paul Singer.
The interview late last month was conducted in part by David Rivkin Jr., an attorney who is representing the plaintiffs in Moore v. United States. The case, which is mentioned in passing in the Journal's write-up of the Alito interview, concerns whether unrealized gains such as stock appreciation can be subject to federal taxation.
Unrealized gains are currently untaxed in the U.S., allowing
billionaires such as Tesla CEO Elon Musk to accumulate massive fortunes
while paying little to nothing in federal income taxes.
Supporters of the Moore plaintiffs, who are specifically challenging an obscure foreign earnings provision in the 2017 Republican tax law, have encouraged the Supreme Court to explicitly address the constitutionality of wealth taxes in its ruling.
"This case presents the court with an ideal opportunity to clarify that taxes on unrealized gains, such as wealth taxes, are direct taxes that are unconstitutional if not apportioned among the states," the right-wing Manhattan Institute argued in a May amicus brief. (Proponents of a tax on unrealized gains, such as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), have expressed confidence that such a tax is constitutional.)
The Manhattan Institute is chaired by Singer, whose private jet flew Alito to an Alaska fishing trip that the justice did not disclose.
"Alito needs to recuse himself from the case deciding the constitutionality of a wealth tax," Americans for Tax Fairness, a progressive advocacy group, said Wednesday. "First he accepted lavish gifts from billionaires and failed to disclose them. Then he gave a buddy-buddy interview to one of the case's anti-wealth tax lawyers. Enough."
The report, published under the headline, “Clarence Thomas’ 38 Vacations: The Other Billionaires Who Have Treated the Supreme Court Justice to Luxury Travel,” is a devastating exposure of corruption and criminality.
The report declares:
Thomas has secretly reaped the benefits from a network of wealthy and well-connected patrons that is far more extensive than previously understood…
During his three decades on the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas has enjoyed steady access to a lifestyle most Americans can only imagine. A cadre of industry titans and ultrawealthy executives have treated him to far-flung vacations aboard their yachts, ushered him into the premium suites at sporting events and sent their private jets to fetch him including, on more than one occasion, an entire 737.
The gifts include “at least 38 destination vacations, including a previously unreported voyage on a yacht around the Bahamas.” This is better than one expensive vacation every year of Thomas’s 32 years on the court. In addition, there were “26 private jet flights, plus an additional eight by helicopter; a dozen VIP passes to professional and college sporting events, typically perched in the skybox; two stays at luxury resorts in Florida and Jamaica; and one standing invitation to an uber-exclusive golf club overlooking the Atlantic coast.”
These trips were largely unreported, either by the corporate media or by Thomas himself in his annual financial filings with the court. Pro Publica observes, “Thomas appears to have violated the law by failing to disclose flights, yacht cruises and expensive sports tickets, according to ethics experts.”
At least four billionaires, representing several sectors of the US economy, have been identified as sponsors of Thomas. There may be others, but these four, as profiled by the New York Times and Pro Publica, include:
- Harlan Crow, heir to the commercial real estate giant Trammell Crow, founded by his father, which became the largest US owner of real estate. Harlan Crow controls the family holding company, Crow Holdings, with assets of $20 billion.
- David Sokol, oil and finance executive, who made his initial fortune at Berkshire Hathaway, the massive investment firm founded and headed by Warren Buffett, before resigning in disgrace over an insider trading scandal.
- The late H. Wayne Huizenga, whose fortune derived from Waste Management, the leading waste disposal firm in North America, Auto Nation, once the largest auto dealer, and Blockbuster video. He also owned at one point or another most of the professional sports teams in Miami, Florida.
- Paul Novelly, oil executive, whose family owns the billion-dollar independent Apex Oil and several other oil industry firms, most involved in trading and storing heavy oil products, including fuel oil and asphalt.
What these billionaires have in common, besides enormous wealth, is an extreme right-wing political perspective, opposing any restriction on the capitalist market and any effort to provide state support for working people whose jobs and living standards have been devastated by market forces.
They were not “personal friends” of Thomas, as the justice claimed of Crow when his financial ties with the real estate mogul was brought to light by Pro Publica earlier this year. All four began their relationships with Thomas only after he had become a Supreme Court justice in 1991, when he was in a position to reinforce the drastic shift to the right in the high court which was already under way.
Thomas occasionally reported trips and gifts from Crow, but never for any of the other three, although these relationships were extraordinarily lucrative as well.
Stand Up America is a progressive advocacy organization with over two million community members across the country. Focused on grassroots advocacy to strengthen our democracy and oppose Trump's corrupt agenda, Stand Up America has driven over 600,000 phone calls to Congress and mobilized tens of thousands of protestors across the country.
+ One of RFK Jr.’s super PACs has been paying thousands to a xenophobic outlet called Creative Destruction Media that blasts out alarums about the threat of “Black and brown invaders” with a “primitive culture”. Not much of a surprise there. Last month, RFK Jr stood with the big irrigators in Arizona who are sucking the Colorado River dry and smeared immigrants for stepping on their arugula plantations….
+ Which imperial family’s disintegration has been more complete: the Windsors, Kennedys or Cuomos? According to a story in the NYT this week, Madeline Cuomo, the sister of former NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, worked with a pro-Cuomo group called We Decide New York, Inc. to smear and intimidate women who had accused Cuomo of sexual harassment.
+ DeSantis auditioning for the Joker in the next Batman reboot?
+ Is it any wonder he’s campaign is in free fall? DeSantis is now polling less than half of the support from people who pick a candidate not named Trump.
+ DeSantis, who was billed as the political Ken doll for the Moms of Liberty demographic, is now polling at 11% nationally among GOP women.
+ In a desperate effort to reverse his slide into political oblivion, DeSantis used his autocratic powers as Florida governor to remove the elected state attorney in Orlando, a black reformist prosecutor named Monique Worrell, saying she’d been weak on criminal prosecutions. Worrell responded by saying, “I am your duly elected state attorney and nothing done by a weak dictator can change that.” Meanwhile, DeSantis has taken no action against the DA of Jacksonville, despite the fact the city has the highest murder rate in Florida. Of course, he’s white and a Republican.
+ This latest action has means that DeSantis has nullified the electoral decisions of more than 15.5 percent of the voters in the state, leaving 3.3 million Floridians without their elected choice of prosecutor.
+ Here’s DeSantis defending his plan for death squads on the southern border:
+ “These people in Iraq at the time, they all looked the same.” This is certainly calls out for a deeper probe into DeSantis’ time in Fallujah, as well as Guantanamo.
Long story short: The DeSantis-signed bill barring schools from offering "instruction" in gender or sexual orientation, dubbed the "don't say gay law" by critics, made it impossible for teachers to address very basic ideas like "sexuality is a part of the life experience." Rather than offer a substandard program, the College Board was forced to pull the AP classes, which many students could use for college credit, from the schools.
In response to the bad press, the GOP-controlled Florida government went into heavy spin mode, releasing a letter claiming the AP Psychology course can be "taught in its entirety," but only "in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate." This was widely — and falsely — reported in the press as a "reversal," with even LGBTQ-oriented sites getting caught up in the hype. Thankfully, the team at Popular Information was on hand to debunk the lie, pointing out that the "developmentally appropriate" language is a poison pill that amounts to a de facto ban on the AP Psychology course.
Luckily, the Washington Post quickly updated the story with the correct information, under the headline "Florida schools drop AP Psychology after state says it violates the law."
All this confusion is very much by design. The mixed messages coming from Republican leaders on what is and isn't allowed in schools serves a larger purpose: making it so impossible for teachers to do their jobs that they give up even trying.
In some cases, teachers leave the profession or move to a less hostile state to work. In others, it's more a quiet-quitting, as the limitations force teachers to offer a substandard education to their students, out of fear that actually challenging kids to learn will cross some legal line that will land teachers in serious trouble. Either way, children in red states are losing access to quality education.
Education in Florida has been ravaged by book banning for the last year under the “don’t say gay” law as well as other laws that allow parents to object to almost anything in curriculums. In fact, according to the Parental Rights in Education law, Diaz is inviting any Florida educator to lose his or her job—or worse—by verbally recommending “Romeo and Juliet” to a student or including it in a curriculum.
The confusion and fear sown in Florida’s educational standards are a part of the wrecking operation by far-right groups such as Moms for Liberty and their would-be Il Duce, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis. A small Evangelical Christian and fascist-minded constituency has lit the bonfire of book banning in Florida’s schools and in those of other American states.
As the WSWS noted in April:
The numbers and types of books that have been removed from Florida schools are truly staggering. In February, in Martin County, Florida, over 80 works, by authors such as Toni Morrison, James Patterson and Jodi Picoult, were removed from elementary school libraries at the request of a single parent, who wrote that these works had no “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for students.”
The parent, Julie Marshall, is the head of the local chapter of Moms for Liberty.
“One of the books removed, Picoult’s novel The Storyteller (2013), is a bestseller that tells the story of the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor who meets a former SS officer. “Banning The Storyteller is shocking,” Picoult told the Washington Post, “as it is about the Holocaust and has never been banned before.” This ban recalls the censorship of the graphic novel Maus in Tennessee, an action with distinct overtones of anti-Semitism.
“When one parent in Pinellas County [Florida] complained that Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), had a rape scene in it, the principal of the local high school banned it, and it was subsequently banned in the entire county. In February over 100 high school students protested the decision.”
Recent banning also includes a graphic novel based on the diary of Holocaust victim Anne Frank, which “was removed from the library at Vero Beach High School in Florida after a complaint from one parent.”
The crusade against culture is not simply one of exclusion, but of active historical falsification. Last month Florida’s State Board of Education approved standards for African American history curriculums that include such historical revisionism as the claim that slavery gave black people a “personal benefit” because they “developed skills,” and that a racist pogrom against blacks in Ocoee, Florida, in 1920 included “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.”
This week, Ron DeSantis, now a candidate for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party, reinforced his fascist credentials by telling the media that the standards are “probably going to show some of the folks [i.e., slaves] that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life.”
This is little more than a rephrase of the South Carolina senator and arch-defender of slavery John C. Calhoun’s notorious 1837 speech before Congress, arguing that African American slaves “had attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically but morally and intellectually … in the course of a few generations it has grown up under the fostering care of our institutions, as reviled as they have been, to its present comparative civilized condition.”
A Civil War was fought to destroy the “fostering care” of those institutions, and it is a marker of the decline of political culture under capitalism that DeSantis can openly echo the reactionary sentiments of the slaveowners.
The book banning, restrictions on Shakespeare and the teaching that slavery was a positive good serve to wipe away all that is progressive and enlightened in world culture and American history and to teach subservience, conformity and worship of authority to a generation of young people now coming into struggle against war, climate change and the very fascism with which the Republicans, with the acquiescence of the Democrats, are poisoning the cultural air.
The materials include videos, magazines and books that in some cases disparage the Black Lives Matter movement, deny that police unfairly target Blacks, question the impact of human use of fossil fuels on the environment, and call out “climate alarmism.” There are videos on “How to Embrace Your Femininity” and “How to Embrace Your Masculinity,” one on “How to Be a Rational Patriot” that says the United States was founded on “Judeo-Christian values,” and one under the categories of “Life Lessons and “Judeo-Christian values” called “How to Learn to Forgive.” Topics covered under the PragerU Kids banner are divided into categories for grades K-2, 3-5 and 6+ and are wide-ranging, including financial literacy, history, civics, character development and life lessons.
The move by the Florida Department of Education is the latest in the DeSantis administration’s efforts to dictate what teachers can say about specific topics. Laws now forbid teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity and restrict what they can say about race and racism in the United States. The department banned an Advanced Placement (AP) class on African American studies and threw the use of an AP class on psychology into question because of discussions of race and gender, respectively. It has also censored textbooks and instructional materials, removing material it says is leftist indoctrination.
PragerU was founded in 2009 by conservative talk show host Dennis Prager and screenwriter/producer Allen Estrin and is promoted as being in the “mind-changing business.” It offers 2,600 videos on its YouTube channel and other materials on its website that it says are aimed at “promoting pro-American values,” some of which have been challenged by historians for accuracy.
“What slavery was really about was separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives,” said Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is also running for president. “It was just devastating. So I would hope that every person in our country — and certainly running for president — would appreciate that.”
But DeSantis is continuing to defend the standards. In a recent NBC interview this week, the governor stated that enslaved people “developed skills in spite of slavery, not because of slavery,” adding that “it was them showing resourcefulness and then using those skills once slavery ended.”
In the interview, DeSantis also defended the steps his administration has taken in the past year to overhaul various aspects of that state’s education system. “We’ve been involved in education, not indoctrination,” he said. “Those standards were not political at all.”
The controversy is the latest in a string of education-related fights for DeSantis, including the state’s rejection of the AP African American History course, the dismantling of the state’s tenure system, and the conservative takeover of the small New College of Florida. With each move, DeSantis has attempted to model what he would do nationally as president.
Teachers who use the materials “will not be reprimanded, cannot be pushed back on about it, we are approved on the curriculum”, said Jill Simonian, director of outreach at PragerU Kids, the youth arm of the organization. “More states are following. Florida – I’m applauding. This is step in the right direction.”
“The U.S. Armed Forces allows that discrimination to live on in the discharge papers carried by LGBTQ+ veterans, denying them privacy, benefits, and pride in their service,” reads the class action lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of five veterans.
Veterans who were discharged under “don’t ask don’t tell” for their actual or perceived sexual orientation often received discharge paperwork that identifies their sexuality as the reason for their discharge, according to Tuesday’s lawsuit. The discharge papers, known as DD214s, also burden veterans “with discharge rankings below honorable” and bar them from reenlisting.
“Discharge paperwork bearing these markers carries the legacy of the anti-LGBTQ+ policies that the military has now disavowed,” the lawsuit says.