Justices' conflict of interest alleged

Tribune NewspapersJanuary 21, 2011 

— A government watchdog group alleges that two of the Supreme Court's most conservative members had a conflict of interest when they considered a controversial case last year that permitted corporate funds to be used directly in political campaigns.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are the subject of a letter delivered Wednesday by Common Cause asking the U.S. Justice Department to look into whether the jurists should have disqualified themselves from hearing the campaign finance case because they had attended a private meeting sponsored by Charles and David Koch, billionaire philanthropists who fund conservatives causes.

If it believes there is a conflict, the Justice Department should ask the court to reconsider its decision, Common Cause says.

The landmark case, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, was decided a year ago this week. It permitted corporate and union funds to be spent directly on election advertising, a practice that had previously been restricted. The Kochs have been significant donors to independent-expenditure campaigns, which increased dramatically after the Citizens United decision.

The letter is based in part on references to Scalia and Thomas made in an invitation to a meeting later this month of elite conservative leaders sponsored by the Kochs. The invitation, first obtained by the liberal blog Think Progress, names the two justices among luminaries who have attended the closed Koch meetings at unspecified dates in the past.

Representatives of the Supreme Court and the Kochs declined repeated requests for comment. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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