Discrepancies in reports about an appearance by Justice Clarence Thomas at a political retreat for wealthy conservatives three years ago have prompted new questions to the Supreme Court from a group that advocates changing campaign finance laws.
When questions were first raised about the retreat last month, a court spokeswoman said Justice Thomas had made a "brief drop-by" at the event in Palm Springs, Calif., in January 2008 and had given a talk.
In his financial disclosure report for that year, however, Justice Thomas reported that the Federalist Society, a prominent conservative legal group, had reimbursed him an undisclosed amount for four days of "transportation, meals and accommodations" over the weekend of the retreat. The event is organized by Charles and David Koch, brothers who have used millions of dollars from the energy conglomerate they run in Wichita, Kan., to finance conservative causes.
Despite all the free publicity the Times has given to Common Cause's recent conflict-of-interest complaints against Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia, the paper has yet to report on the vulgar and racist remarks about Thomas ("String him up") made by Common Cause-affiliated protesters and caught on video January 30 outside a resort in which the Koch brothers had organized a conservative meeting. Lichtblau himself even covered the protest, in flattering fashion .
Also note Lichtblau's labeling disparity: While the Federalist Society is "conservative," and the Koch brothers "finance conservative causes," their leftist opponents at Common Cause are twice considered merely an "advocacy group."
Arn Pearson, a vice president at the advocacy group Common Cause, said the two statements appeared at odds. His group sent a letter to the Supreme Court on Monday asking for "further clarification" as to whether the justice spent four days at the retreat for the entire event or was there only briefly.
Common Cause maintains that Justice Thomas should have disqualified himself from last year's landmark campaign finance ruling in the Citizens United case, partly because of his ties to the Koch brothers.
In a petition filed with the Justice Department last month, the advocacy group said past appearances at the Koch brothers' retreat by Justice Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia, along with the conservative political work of Justice Thomas's wife, had created a possible perception of bias in hearing the case.
The Citizens United decision, with Justice Thomas's support, freed corporations to engage in direct political spending with little public disclosure. The Koch brothers have been among the main beneficiaries, political analysts say.
And which "political analysts" would those be?