Why Does the Mercer Family Foundation Give 10 Percent of Its Assets to The Federalist Society?

Photo credit: Supreme Court of the United States

The Mercer Family Foundation, created by hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer and overseen by his daughter, Rebekah, is best known for its role in supporting the efforts of Stephen K. Bannon during his Breitbart years. After the family propped up the Breitbart News enterprise by investing $10 million in the right-wing media outlet just before the death of founder Andrew Breitbart, the family’s foundation invested millions in a non-profit founded by Bannon with Peter Schweizer, a Breitbart reporter, that created the fodder for a book and movie advancing allegations against Hillary Clinton, with scant evidence, that she had run a pay-for-play operation during her tenure as secretary of state. Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute, founded in 2012, collected $1 million in funding from the Mercer Family Foundation in 2013, and has collected at least $1 million per year ever since—at least until 2016 (when the foundation granted GAI $2 million), the most recent year for which tax filings are publicly available. In a 2016 Washington Post profile of Rebekah Mercer, who served as GAI’s chairman of the board, her friend Leonard Leo explained Ms. Mercer’s rationale for her efforts to reporter Matea Gold:

“One is faced with a binary choice right now, and you know the country would be taken in one very clear direction with Hillary Clinton, and that’s a direction she would find extremely objectionable.”

Leo is the power behind The Federalist Society, the influential right-wing legal organization that is essentially creating the roster of potential federal judicial nominees for the Trump administration. Though he holds the title of executive vice president, Leo functions as the society’s public face and its liaison with the Trump administration. During the time between the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the Senate vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Leo took a leave from his day job in order to work for the administration to help guide the tarnished judge through any obstacles to his ascendance to the Olympus that is the high court.

According to tax filings, the Mercer Family Foundation granted nearly $6 million to the Federalist Society between the years 2013-2015. In the field of right-wing granting nonprofits, the Mercer Foundation is a much smaller player than others, such as the better-known Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation[for instance]. In 2015, the year in which the Mercer Family Foundation granted The Federalist Society $2.3 million, the Mercer Foundation had only $23 million in assets, compared to the Bradley Foundation’s $845 million. (In 2015, the Bradley Foundation made $525,000 in grants to The Federalist Society.) In its 2015 grant to The Federalist Society, the Mercer Family Foundation gave the legal society 10 percent of the foundation’s assets—a grant that, coincidentally, accounted for nearly the same percentage of contributions received by The Federalist Society in that year. It’s a tithe so neat you could tie it up with a string.

Like other players in the Koch network of donors (in which the Mercers participate), the billionaire and his daughter favor a deregulatory agenda—what Steve Bannon, who went on to serve as CEO of the Trump campaign and had a short-lived White House stint as the president’s chief strategic adviser, might call “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” While the Mercers’ penchant for small government reads like right-wing boilerplate, deregulation of both the financial and tech sectors, combined with the anonymity afforded political donors in the U.S., are critical elements in the spread of the Mercers’ influence. Through his private business, Robert Mercer has pursued abroad the sort of “economic nationalism” touted by Bannon, notably through Cambridge Analytica, the now-defunct data-mining and profiling company largely owned by Mercer that is heavily implicated in the advancement of the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum. A Supreme Court that is inclined to curb financial regulation, preserve anonymous donations to political organizations, and maintain the opacity of limited liability companies (LLCs) registered in such “privacy jurisdictions” as Delaware and New Mexico can help the Mercers anonymously push their resources into causes they support, both in the U.S. and abroad—causes like, say, the weakening of the European Union.

The Mercer Family Foundation also supports an unsurprising handful of right-wing groups—such anti-choice organizations as the Susan B. Anthony List, and several affiliates of the anti-labor State Policy Network, which was birthed with Koch network money.