ProPublica, who broke the Clarence Thomas – Harlan Crow relationship, has a new scoop in the unfolding ethics scandal. Apparently, Harlan Crow covered the tuition for Justice Thomas’s grandnephew (Mark Martin, who Thomas was raising “as a son”) to attend Hidden Lake Academy, a private boarding school in northern Georgia.
“Tuition at the boarding school ran more than $6,000 a month,” ProPublica reported. “But Thomas did not cover the bill. A bank statement for the school from July 2009 buried in unrelated court filings, shows the source of Martin’s tuition payment for that month: the company of billionaire real estate magnate Harlan Crow.”
According to Christopher Grimwood, a former administrator at the school, the July 2009 payment was not an anomaly – rather, Crow paid Martin’s tuition the entire time he attended Hidden Lake Academy. “Harlan picked up the tab,” Grimwood said.
And when Martin enrolled in a second boarding school, Randolph-Macon Academy in Virginia, Crow once again covered the bill.
“The exact total Crow paid for Martin’s education over the years remains unclear,” ProPublica reported. “If he paid for all four years at the two schools, the price tag could have exceeded $150,000.”
Clarence Thomas did not disclose the tuition payments
Justice Thomas failed to report the tuition payment from Crow on annual financial disclosures. Although, “several years earlier, Thomas disclosed a gift of $5,000 for Martin’s education from another friend. So it seems clear that Thomas understood such gifts needed to be disclosed.
The new revelation, that Crow was paying for Thomas’s immediate family to attend boarding school, has added a new angle to Thomas’s ongoing ethics scandal.
“You can’t be having secret financial arrangements,” said Mark W. Bennett, a retired federal judge, who added that when he was on the bench, he wouldn’t even let his friends buy his lunch.
Crow, in written response to a set of questions from ProPublica, did not deny the tuition payment claims.
“Harlan Crow has long been passionate about the importance of quality education and giving back to those less fortunate, especially at-risk youth,” the statement said. “It’s disappointing that those with partisan political interests would try to turn helping at-risk youth with tuition assistance into something nefarious or political.”
Turns out it’s not just travel
The original ProPublica scoop revealed that Crow had treated Thomas to luxury travel – aboard Crow’s yacht, and jet, and at Crow’s Adirondacks retreat. Thomas responded that the Crows “are amongst our dearest friends” and that the travel was just part of the friendship – and that he didn’t realize he had to disclose the trips.
“For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from [Crow] without disclosing them,” ProPublica wrote, adding that the “extent and frequency” of Crow’s gifts to Thomas were unprecedented in the history of SCOTUS.
Obviously, the scoop raised red flags over ethical standards for federal judges.
And while I suspect Thomas would be ruling conservatively whether or not he was riding around on Harlan Crow’s yacht, the suggestion raised through the gifts, that Thomas is in the pocket of a Republican mega donor, is unacceptable.
The newest disclosure, that Crow was paying Martin’s tuition, could solidify the perception that Thomas was out of line.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.