With the recent activities by The Chamber of Commerce and the ongoing fall-out from the Citizens United decision there’s been a lot of focus of the role of money in this current election cycle. And with good reason as it’s clear that Congressional candidates are set to spend record amounts just trying to stay employed. As we round the corner to November 2nd, now is the time to really focus on just what kind of influence money plays in our electoral outcomes.
Which is what made the following New York Times profile of Virginia Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court all the more trouble. Ms. Thomas is the founder and chief executive of Liberty Central, a nonprofit organization set up to “restore the greatness of America” in part by opposing the leftist “tyranny” of President Obama and Democrats in Congress.
Part of that opposition includes substantial money contributions designed to support the organization’s advocacy efforts. Its initial contributions include one for $500,000 and another for $50,000 from undisclosed donors. Given the structure of Liberty Central and the current state of campaign disclosure laws, Ms. Thomas is under no legal obligation to disclose the donors. But that doesn’t mean she can avoid the issue all together.
She needs to disclose those donors because they raise a serious issue of ethics for her husband. Justice Thomas, and indeed all of the sitting justices, need to know if those donors is a party in a case before the Supreme Court or if they have an interest in a party before the Court. Without that disclosure, how could Justice Thomas meet his fundamental ethical and legal requirement and disqualify himself in any proceeding “in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
No one is suggesting that Ms. Thomas not chose the career that she has. Sure, her choice may be distasteful given her husband’s job, but quite frankly that is a discussion suited simply for Justice Thomas and his wife. But, given the already shaky ground the Roberts Court finds itself as a result of some very questionable decisions, Citizens United among the most notorious, it is incumbent on Justice Thomas to not feed into even the appearance of impropriety. Indeed, as a sitting justice it is his ethical obligation to avoid such a position. So far neither Justice Thomas nor his wife have agreed to the required disclosures. For the sake of our faith in the judiciary, let’s hope they change their minds soon.
photo courtesy of Jeff Kubina via Flickr