The dark money network led by conservative Supreme Court architect Leonard Leo financed the nonprofit that bankrolled a misleading text message campaign pretending a Kansas ballot measure would “give women a choice,” when it actually would have eliminated state abortion protections.
New tax documents hint at how Leo’s network has been quietly working to influence abortion policy in the states utilizing his historic $1.6 billion dark money fund, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision last year overturning Roe v. Wade and ending federal protections for abortion rights. As President Donald Trump’s judicial adviser, Leo helped select three of the six justices making up the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority.
Leo’s network donated $1.7 million to CatholicVote Civic Action, a conservative Catholic advocacy group, between July 2021 and June 2022, according to a new tax return obtained by The Lever.
The contribution was made around the time that CatholicVote Civic Action was funding a campaign supporting a Kansas ballot measure designed to eliminate protections for abortion rights in the state constitution. The ballot measure would have affirmed “there is no Kansas constitutional right to abortion” and given state lawmakers “the right to pass laws to regulate abortion.”
Do Right PAC, a political action committee funded by CatholicVote Civic Action, sent text messages to Kansas voters a day before the election last summer giving the false impression that a “yes” vote on the ballot measure would “give women a choice” and “protect women’s health,” when its passage would have ended state protections for abortion rights.
The PAC also paid for TV ads featuring Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker, in which he claimed that the amendment would “let Kansas decide what we do on abortion, not judges and not D.C. politicians.”
A spokesperson for Leo did not respond to questions from The Lever.
Former Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), a senior political advisor to CatholicVote Civic Action, led Do Right PAC. CatholicVote Civic Action donated $500,000 of the $556,000 raised by the PAC last year.
Huelskamp did not respond to a request for comment.
Despite these efforts, the Kansas initiative failed decisively, 41 to 59 percent — offering an early preview of how anti-abortion efforts would flounder in the 2022 state elections. While Kansas Republicans recently overrode Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s vetoes of some anti-abortion measures, abortion remains legal in the state up to 22 weeks.
The Leo network’s donation to CatholicVote Civic Action came via the Concord Fund, the conservative advocacy group that spent tens of millions to confirm the three Supreme Court nominees whom Leo helped select as former Trump’s judicial adviser.
Tax records show the Concord Fund raised $29 million between July 2021 and June 2022. All of that money appears to have come from Leo’s Marble Freedom Trust. As The Lever and ProPublica reported last year, this trust was the recipient of an unprecedented $1.6 billion cash infusion courtesy of Chicago surge protector magnate Barre Seid.
The new tax documents show how Leo is using the Concord Fund to imprint his conservative vision on both politics and policy.
The disclosure shows the Concord Fund donated $3 million to One Nation, the Senate GOP’s dark money arm. One Nation, which supports Republican Senate candidates, aired ads supporting Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation in 2018.
The Concord Fund separately donated nearly $1 million to the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion advocacy group that pressed the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. The organization has actively backed voter suppression laws passed by Republican lawmakers around the country.
Records show the Concord Fund also donated $500,000 to Advancing American Freedom, a dark money group chaired by former Vice President Mike Pence that is serving as his “campaign-in-waiting” in advance of a potential 2024 presidential bid, according to Politico.
In 2021, Advancing American Freedom filed an amicus brief, or friend-of-the-court filing, pressing the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade — warning that “unfettered access to abortion” has led to “declining formation of families with accompanying increases in family instability and single parent households (many living in poverty).”
This year, the organization filed a brief unsuccessfully urging the high court to approve a Texas district court ruling designed to ban a commonly-used abortion pill. The Supreme Court blocked the lower court’s decision in April, allowing an appeals court to consider the case first, though it’s widely expected that the case will eventually end up back at the high court.
The Concord Fund has long been the chief financier of the Republican Attorneys General Association, which elects GOP attorneys general, and donated $6.5 million to the group last election cycle, according to data compiled by CQ Roll Call’s Political Moneyline.
Those attorneys general regularly bring cases and file briefs urging the Supreme Court to issue precedent-shattering decisions. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, for instance, led the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case at the Supreme Court, by which justices overturned federal protections for abortion rights.
The Concord Fund additionally reported donating $750,000 to the lobbying arm of the Foundation for Government Accountability, which has led the fight to institute new and expanded work requirements for a range of social safety net programs.
President Joe Biden’s recent debt ceiling deal with House Republicans includes some of those expanded work requirements, at the urging of Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).