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Another Day, Another Shoddy Politico Hit Piece Aimed At The Conservative Legal Movement


Every day a new hatchet job aimed at justices, judges, and the conservative legal movement appears in the corporate media. The purpose of this coordinated campaign, as we saw today during the Senate’s judiciary hearings, is to provide more fodder to delegitimize the court and intimidate jurists.

Now, activist groups have always shopped oppo research to journalists. Most of it is so absurdly unpersuasive that no self-respecting writer, partisan or not, would take ownership of it. These days, though, with little quality control and virtually no consequences for spreading false partisan attacks, a person without journalistic ethics can probably build a career on the stuff.

Which brings me to Heidi Przybyla’s new piece at Politico: “Leonard Leo used Federalist Society contact to obtain $1.6 billion donation.” This is her second hit piece in a week — in the first, she couldn’t decipher/purposely misrepresented Neil Gorsuch’s financial disclosure form.

This one begins like so:

“Leonard Leo, who helped to choose judicial nominees for former President Donald Trump, obtained a historic $1.6 billion gift for his conservative legal network via an introduction through the Federalist Society, whose tax status forbids political activism.”

It’s difficult to untangle the accusation being leveled here. The three chilling components of the tale — “Donald Trump,” the “$1.6 billion gift,” and the “Federalist Society” — all make for good conspiratorial copy, but they have nothing to do with each other in the context of this story.

Basically, a well-known Washington operative named Leonard Leo was introduced to a prospective donor by his old Federalist Society coworker. According to the piece, which is thin on specifics, it looks like Leo, who had helped Trump with his originalist judicial nominees, convinced Barre Seid to give him funding instead of the Federalist Society, which he promised to disseminate more effectively. That’s it.

Who knows, maybe Przybyla is under the impression that it’s illegal for one-time employees of 501(c)(3)s to interact with any prospective political donors they meet through old acquaintances. Maybe she thinks prospective donors to tax-exempt groups are forever prohibited from speaking or giving to any political operatives. Maybe she thinks there are a special set of rules only conservatives must follow. But dropping the words “tax status forbids political activism” at the top of the story is clearly meant to insinuate that some unscrupulous behavior will be exposed.

Sorry. All we learn after reading the 1700-word piece is that a bunch of normal Washington, D.C. fundraising stuff is happening and that no one broke any law or did anything unethical. The point of the piece, as it is with the recent spate of these stories, is to create the impression of unethical behavior. Specifics aren’t important. That’s why the story is padded with journalistic-sounding red herrings and a string of scary words like “dark money” — a term favored by activist journalists who want to make completely legal and ethical contributions to completely legitimate political causes sound creepy, illicit, ominous, and unsavory.

According to Przybyla, for example, the pro-court packing smear outfit Demand Justice is a “progressive judicial group.” Leo, on the other hand, helms a “dark money vehicle,” a “dark money group,” and even a “dark money network,” all phrases that appear in this one Politico piece. “Dark money” is mentioned seven times in case you miss its first six appearances.

In the end, the real crimes here are that conservatives are raising money and that a “conservative” legal movement has experienced some success and stands in the way of unconstitutional, progressive policy goals. That makes leftists angry. That’s the story.  

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