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Federalist Society Leader Will Head Pro-Trump Dark Money Group in 2020


Leonard Leo is the conservative movement leader whose work as executive vice president of the Federalist Society has been instrumental in shaping the right-wing makeup of President Donald Trump’s judicial appointments. And now he’s stepping away from the organization in order to have a more direct political impact.

According to Axios, Leo plans to helm a massive effort aimed at securing Trump’s re-election by highlighting the 45th president’s record on appointing conservative judges.

That campaign alone will entail a “minimum of $10 million issue advocacy campaign focusing on judges in the 2020 cycle,” Leo told the outlet. The multi-million-dollar ad barrage will emanate from an innocuously-named group known as CRC Advisors.

The group’s website leads users to a splash page containing the following fairly anodyne marketing pitch:

At CRC Advisors, we don’t just represent you. We work with you to build winning ventures.

WE INCUBATE public policy projects, coalitions, and groups: mission-driven, focused, results-oriented.

WE CONNECT best-in-class professionals, successful non-profits, and savvy philanthropists, forging partnerships tailored for success.

WE STRENGTHEN our clients by helping them identify and bring together the capabilities they need to win, whether in public policy or private enterprise.

CRC Advisors is the brainchild of Leo and his partner, Greg Mueller, who already runs a CRC Strategies—a conservative communications firm whose past clients have included the Federalist Society itself as well the Judicial Crisis Network, the main conservative organization advocating for Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 2018.

During the increasingly contentious Kavanaugh fight—after the nominee was accused of sexual assault—CRC was behind the widely-discredited though perhaps somewhat successful conspiracy theory that Christine Blasey Ford had actually been sexually assaulted by a Kavanaugh look-alike.

CRC, which stands for and was previously more commonly known as Creative Response Concepts, was also the group behind the anti-veteran “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” campaign used, again with some measure of success, against then senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.

The group was also previously the go-to public relations firm for—the decidedly less successful—anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage, which lobbied against marriage equality and other basic rights for LGBT Americans.

Leo and Mueller say they plan to replicate a form of organization used by liberal interest groups during the 2018 midterm elections.

Axios notes that the “little-known yet powerful consulting firm” Arabella Advisers devised dozens of interest groups with non-ideological names in order to advocate for left and liberal causes using the nation’s opaque political fundraising laws—and, of course, the often unlimited largesse of the wealthy. In 2018, the group spun out their largely unknown influence-peddling network with the aid of at least $141 million from shadowy donors.

Arabella, however, disputed being characterized as darlings of the Democratic Party.

“Arabella Advisors is a consulting business that supports philanthropy,” a spokesperson told the outlet. “It provides advice and implementation support to clients with very different ideological and political viewpoints and many clients for whom politics and policy are not areas of interest.”

Per that report:

Mueller and Leo say they plan to work with two existing non-profit groups, which will be rebranded as the Concord Fund and the 85 Fund, to funnel tens of millions of dollars into conservative fights around the country…but they want to expand this to other issues like deregulation at the state and federal level.

So, how does that work out for the Federalist Society?

The Federalist Society is still–officially–not political, and they don’t have plans to alter their organizational mandate. Leo says he plans to step down from his day-to-day duties and simply remain a co-chair of the organization’s board. Leo, however, also says he’ll still be involved with Federalist Society issues like education.

[image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

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