Nonprofit Newswire | Thomas and the Tea Party: Donor Disclosure Advised?

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October 12, 2010; Source: New York Times | By now many Americans know that Virginia Thomas, wife of Chief Justice Clarence Thomas, is the founder and chief executive of a Tea Party-related nonprofit organization, the aim of which is to “restore the greatness of America,” in part by opposing the leftist “tyranny” of the current administration.

Now we find out that the first two individuals donating to the cause at $500,000 and $50,000 have chosen to remain anonymous. This once again brings up the issue of potential conflict of interest for a public official who has a relationship to a nonprofit that receives large donations anonymously.

This New York Times editorial suggests that because Justice Thomas benefits from the donation (his wife is paid for her work for the organization), he has a responsibility under federal law to inform himself about who the donors are, but the nonprofit has no obligation to disclose it. This poses a problem.

As the editorial says, whether or not Virginia Thomas is paid, Justice Thomas needs disclosure to know if either of the anonymous donors is a party in a case before the Supreme Court or has an interest in a party in a case before the Supreme Court. That is the only way he can comply with a fundamental ethical and legal requirement to “disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”—Ruth McCambridge