The Common Cause complaint against Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia

02/16/11 Robert Lorei
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Good morning, welcome to Radioactivity. I'm Rob Lorei. The national citizen's lobby Common Cause raised a new ethical question this week about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, asking the Court for a thorough accounting of a January 2008 trip in which the justice spent four days in California for what the court has said was a single speech and a "drop-by" at a gathering of business executives and veteran political operatives.

A court spokesperson's description last month of the trip is "problematic" compared with financial disclosure reports filed by Thomas, the government watchdog group asserted.

"Justice Thomas has acknowledged spending four days in a popular resort area, with his tab covered by Federalist Society. It's difficult to square such a prolonged stay with what the court now describes as one speech to the Federalists and a 'drop-by' at a nearby Koch Industries event," said Bob Edgar, Common Cause's president and CEO."

Common Cause asked the Department of Justice last month to review the participation of Justices Thomas and Antonin Scalia in the landmark campaign finance case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in light of reports that both jurists attended political strategy and fundraising "seminars" hosted by Koch, the nation's second-largest privately held corporation.

The justices' association with the Koch events may be grounds for a new hearing in Citizens United, with Thomas and Scalia recused from participation, Common Cause suggested.

The court's January 2010 decision in Citizens United freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate the election or defeat of political candidates. Koch Industries was a major beneficiary of the decision; the firm, its affiliates and individuals associated with both spent more than $1.8 million on the 2010 mid-term congressional elections. Koch is believed to have invested millions more through non-profit political organizations that sprung up after the decision and do not report their donors.

We're joined now by Mary Boyle who is the spokesperson for Common Cause.

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