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How a conservative political group with Utah ties scored a $1.6B donation

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Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo speaks to media at Trump Tower in New York.

In this Nov. 16, 2016, file photo, Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo speaks to media at Trump Tower in New York. Leo leads a new political group, Marble Freedom Trust, which recently received a $1.6 billion donation.

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

A new political nonprofit with Utah ties received what turned out to be a $1.6 billion donation, an amount of money that could fuel Republicans and their interests ahead of the 2022 midterms and well into the future.

Marble Freedom Trust scored what is believed to be the the largest single contribution to a politically focused nonprofit from Barre Seid, a longtime conservative donor who made a fortune as the chairman and chief executive of an electrical device manufacturing company in Chicago now known as Tripp Lite, according to The New York Times, which first reported the contribution Monday.

Where did the money come from?: The 90-year-old Seid donated 100% of the shares of Tripp Lite to Marble Freedom Trust before the company was sold to an Irish conglomerate for $1.65 billion, according to tax records provided to the Times. The trust received all of the proceeds from the sale, in a transaction that appears to have been structured to allow the nonprofit group and Seid to avoid paying taxes on the proceeds, according to the Times.

The new political group is controlled by Leonard Leo, co-chairman of the conservative Federalist Society, who has used his connections to Republican donors and politicians to help engineer the conservative majority on the Supreme Court and to finance battles over abortion rightsvoting rules and climate change policy, the Times reported.

According to CNN, Leo runs a sprawling network of other right-wing nonprofits that don’t disclose their donors, which are often referred to as dark money groups. 

Utah ties: Marble Trust’s 2020 tax return lists its address as a house in North Salt Lake owned by Tyler Green, a former Utah solicitor general. He is identified as an administrative trustee on the tax return. Green left the Utah Attorney General’s Office in 2020 to go into private practice.

He now works for Consovoy McCarthy, a firm in Arlington, Virginia, known for its advocacy for former President Donald Trump in his effort to stop U.S. congressional investigators and New York prosecutors from obtaining his financial records, according to Law.com. Green is based in Salt Lake City.

Green, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is also listed as a contributor on the Federalist Society website.

The tax filing shows that the Marble trust paid $940,000 for legal fees related to the Tripp Lite sale to Sullivan & Cromwell, a leading New York law firm that specializes in business transactions. Other law firms paid by Marble include Kirton McConkie, a corporate firm in Salt Lake City that was paid $140,000, and Holtzman Vogel, a Virginia firm specializing in political law that was paid more than $100,000.

The creators of the Marble Freedom Trust kept their project secret for more than two years, according to ProPublica.

The group’s name does not appear in any public database of business, tax or securities records. The nonprofit is organized for legal purposes as a trust, rather than as a corporation. That means it did not have to publicly disclose basic details like its name, directors and address.

Where is the money going?: The Marble Freedom Trust could help conservatives level the playing field — if not surpass the left — with nonprofit or dark money spending, according to the Times.

In a statement to the Times, Leo cited some of the left’s biggest donors and an advisory firm that helps manage the nonprofit groups they fund.

“It’s high time for the conservative movement to be among the ranks of George Soros, Hansjörg Wyss, Arabella Advisors and other left-wing philanthropists, going toe-to-toe in the fight to defend our Constitution and its ideals,” Leo said.

In its tax filings, the Marble trust says, “The trust exists to maintain and expand human freedom consistent with the values and ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.”

The Times reported that a person with knowledge of the matter said that the group’s name derived from the metamorphic rock, signaling the group’s intent to be enduring and maintain a clarity of purpose.