The country’s most powerful conservative donor network erected a monument to one of its favorite public servants Thursday when it was announced the George Mason University Law School would be renamed after the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
The Virginia university agreed to rechristen its law school as the Antonin Scalia School of Law after receiving a $30 million gift from admirers of Scalia, a university statement said. The bulk of the contribution, $20 million, came from an anonymous donor. The remaining $10 million came from the charity started by billionaire conservative activist Charles Koch.
Charles Koch and his brother David aren’t just donors to conservative causes; they’re also the architects of an expansive network of big-ticket fundraisers and right-leaning institutions. George Mason University is very much a hub of the broader Koch infrastructure. And Scalia, an ardent and outspoken conservative during his time on the bench, has also brushed up against the Koch network in a manner that his critics thought compromised the judiciary’s independence.
In 2010 the New York Times reported Scalia and fellow conservative Justice Clarence Thomas had attended private donor summits organized by the Kochs. After Thomas and Scalia both ruled with the majority in the court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the door to the modern era of big money superPAC spending in elections, the liberal group Common Cause petitioned the Justice Department to investigate whether they should have recused themselves after fraternizing with the Koch network.
The Kochs’ ties to George Mason University are, if anything, far more extensive and thoroughly documented. In “Dark Money,” her book on the Koch network, journalist Jane Mayer describes the school as an “academic beachhead” for the brothers’ political activities. The Kochs spent tens of millions of dollars helping to establish the school’s Mercatus Center, a leading libertarian think tank.
More recently in 2014, Charles Koch’s charitable foundation helped finance the Judicial Symposium on the Economics and Law of Public Pension Reform, held at the university’s Law and Economics Center. Judges from all over the country were invited on an all-expenses-paid trip to the university’s campus so they could learn about “the looming financial and structural crisis facing state pensions systems across the nation,” an event description reads.
So that’s Charles Koch. As for the donor who provided the bulk of the $30 million gift in honor of Antonin Scalia, little is known. But the university’s statement on the contribution does note the anonymous benefactor first approached Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, regarding his intent to make the $20 million donation. That Federalist Society — a conservative, libertarian legal organization — has also received money from the Charles Koch Foundation.