by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Leonard Leo is hated on the left because he is effective. Even more offensive to the Left, he fights back with tools and weapons the Left has long wielded alone. Now, he’s being subjected to an investigation by his own competition.
The Federalist Society has been one of the great success stories among right-leaning institutions. In the four decades since its founding, it elevated and evangelized originalist and textualist ideas about the interpretation of law — and did so by eschewing activism in favor of open debate and networking. The result was not only a growing body of scholarship and public acceptance of the premises of originalist and textualist analysis, but also a pipeline of talented candidates for the bench prepared to put those ideas into practice in restoring the rule of democratically written law.
But politics is not all high-minded debate. When the names of those candidates were sent up to Capitol Hill, they were regularly met with well-funded and organized public-relations campaigns against them. The tip of the spear for those campaigns were elected officials, media outlets, and the organized bar. Behind the scenes, however, there was also a lot of money for TV and radio ads, sign-holding protesters, and even public-relations firms to represent witnesses with accusations to make against judicial nominees. Much of the financing for these efforts was routed through a “dark money” group, Arabella Advisors, and its network of affiliates. For years, nothing of the sort existed on the right to respond.
A lot of people complained about this asymmetry. Leo decided to do something about it. Because the Federalist Society, with which he was long associated, was not in the activism business, Leo began raising money to build a parallel infrastructure to defend conservative judicial nominees and criticize liberal and progressive nominees, as well as promote other conservative causes.