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Justice Thomas formally discloses donor-paid trips as watchdog says he's accepted $4M in gifts

It's the first time Justice Thomas has included the 2019 trips to Bali and an exclusive California club, paid for by a conservative donor, on his financial disclosures.
Justice Clarence Thomas is shown.
Posted at 4:02 PM, Jun 07, 2024

Justice Clarence Thomas has officially disclosed billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow paid for two trips he went on in 2019, information his financial disclosure report says was "inadvertently omitted" on earlier forms.

The trips have been at the center of controversy and criticism surrounding the lavish gifts Supreme Court justices receive, particularly after ProPublica uncovered the unreported trip was among near-yearly vacations Thomas has accepted from Crow that have also gone undisclosed. Despite a spike in questions and calls for ethics reform on the Court after the article's publication, this is the first time Thomas has acknowledged the trips on his reports.

At the end of his 2023 report, released Friday, a note states Justice Thomas "sought and received guidance from his accountant and ethics counsel" before listing the two entries in amendment to the 2019 report. The first entry lists Harlan and Kathy Crow as the source of a trip to Bali, Indonesia, on July 12, 2019, in which they paid for food and lodging at a hotel. The second lists Harlan Crow as the source of a July 18 to 21, 2019, trip to a private club in Monte Rio, California, where the donor also paid for Thomas' food and lodging.

These annual disclosure reports, which are required by law, are supposed to give a look at just how much outside income, travel and gifts the president-appointed Supreme Court justices receive. That of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, also released Friday, shows she received concert tickets worth $3,700 from Beyoncé, and multiple justices — including Jackson, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch and Sotomayor — reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in advances and royalties for their books.

But per the ProPublica investigation and a report from a watchdog group Thursday, the reports don't always give the full picture.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

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At the time of the ProPublica report, Thomas had said he wasn't required to report the trips under the ethics rules then. The Supreme Court adopted a new code of conduct last year; though many say there is no enforcement behind it — because they were a form of "personal hospitality." Plus, a report from Fix the Court Thursday said justices over the last two decades have received nearly $4.8 million in gifts, more than $4 million of which were received by Thomas.

The tally includes more than 100 gifts the watchdog says Thomas has likely received over those 20 years, which it states are mostly more free trips and stays that he doesn't disclose. With these included, Fix the Court says the likely overall total of gifts is nearer to $6.6 million, with Thomas accounting for almost $5.9 million of the total.

"Supreme Court justices should not be accepting gifts, let alone the hundreds of freebies worth millions of dollars they've received over the years," Gabe Roth with Fix the Court said. "Public servants who make four times the median local salary and who can make millions writing books on any topic they like can afford to pay for their own vacations, vehicles, hunting excursions and club memberships — to say nothing of the influence the gift-givers are buying with their 'generosity.' The ethics crisis at the Court won't begin to abate until justices adopt stricter gift acceptance rules."

Last year, Justice Thomas requested and received an extension on filing his disclosure forms, as did Justice Samuel Alito who has an extension again this year.

Meanwhile, Democrats still haven't issued subpoenas to Harlan Crow and Leonard Leo — a conservative legal activist also at the center of the Supreme Court ethics questions — despite the Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee voting to authorize them in November, according to ProPublica.