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Blog Post | June 12, 2024

Amicus Spotlight: Moore v. United States

Ethics in GovernmentJudiciarySupreme CourtTaxes
Amicus Spotlight: Moore v. United States

A dozen court whisperer-backed groups and MSNBC superstar Neal Katyal want SCOTUS to make wealth taxes illegal. 

The Supreme Court will soon issue a ruling in Moore v. United States, a high-stakes case that could block Congress from ever enacting a wealth tax on multimillionaires and billionaires. 

As Vox’s Ian Milhiser explains, the case concerns whether the federal government can tax “unrealized gains” (for example, if a stockholder’s asset appreciates in value but the stockholder does not sell or dispose of the stock). Plaintiffs Charles and Kathleen Moore take issue with a one-time tax on unrealized gains from foreign investments included in the 2017 Trump tax law (the “mandatory repatriation tax”), which the couple claims created a large tax liability for an investment they held in an Indian farming equipment company. The Moores argue that this repatriation tax (and by extension, all potential taxes on unrealized gains) are unconstitutional under the 16th Amendment’s taxation powers.

The Constitutional Accountability Center has found the Moores’ logic a faulty attempt to narrow the 16th Amendment’s definition of “income,” noting that “when the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified, federal law had long treated unrealized gains as taxable income. The real purpose of the case, as Milhiser puts it, is for it to be used “as a stalking horse against [Elizabeth] Warren-style wealth taxes,” as a broad ruling against the taxation of unrealized gains would preempt Congress and the Biden administration (which has included a 25 percent “billionaire minimum” wealth tax in its latest budget request) from ever enacting such a proposal to fund public investments and safety net programs.  

To that end, right-wing organizations linked to the Supreme Court’s billionaire benefactors (including Harlan Crow, Paul Singer, and Charles Koch) are pushing the Court to issue the broadest possible ruling. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, who have frequently accepted luxury vacations and lucrative undisclosed gifts from conservative billionaires like Harlan Crow and Paul Singer, have not recused themselves from Moore. To these billionaires, paying for some Justice travel–even if luxurious–is a small price to pay to duck hundreds of millions or more in the contributions people “pay for civilized society,” (i.e., taxes). 

The Moores are officially represented in this case by BigLaw giant BakerHostetler and the COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE (CEI), a right-wing climate denialist think tank that was co-founded by Koch collaborator Fred Smith in 1984 and received over $640,000 in funding from the Koch network between 1997 and 2015. According to the Guardian, Moore’s father, former Reagan economic advisor Thomas Gale Moore, is listed as an “expert” on CEI’s website. 

Additionally, several right-wing groups with ties to the Justices’ billionaire benefactors and other influential Court power-brokers have filed amicus briefs in Moore urging a broad ruling against wealth taxes. An RDP review of amicus brief filings in Moore v. U.S. finds at least 11 right-wing amicus filers have significant ties to Charles Koch and other conservative court-whisperers. 

  • PHILANTHROPY ROUNDTABLE: The Philanthropy Roundtable is a group that advises billionaires and multi-millionaires on how to use their funds to advance a right-wing agenda. It is closely connected to multiple SCOTUS court-whisperers.
    • Paul Singer is a major funder of the Philanthropy Roundtable, personally giving $550,000 to the group between 2014 and 2017. Singer was also awarded the organization’s “William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership” in 2018. His eponymous foundation gave the Philanthropy Roundtable grants of $125,000 in 2018 and 2019, and a grant of $75,000 in 2020. The senior director of the Singer Foundation, Aaron MacClean, also serves on the Philanthropy Roundtable’s Board of Directors.
    • Billionaire and Republican mega-donor Bernard Marcus is the co-founder of Home Depot and the founder of The Marcus Foundation, an eponymous charitable giving nonprofit. Marcus is also a 1993 inductee into the Horatio Alger Association, an exclusive circle of wealthy business elites that has lavished Clarence Thomas with luxury gifts and received unprecedented access to the Supreme Court building. The Marcus Foundation gave the Philanthropy Roundtable $150,000 in 2020, $300,000 in 2021, and $300,000 in 2022.
    • The eponymous charitable foundation of Billionaire Philip Anschutz, an Alger Association member who has close ties to Justice Neil Gorsuch, gave the Philanthropy Roundtable a $150,000 grant in 2019.
    • Koch network groups have given the Roundtable at least $385,000, in addition to other support. The Philanthropy Roundtable is also an associate member of the Koch-linked State Policy Network.
  • INDEPENDENT WOMEN’S LAW CENTER: The Independent Women’s Law Center is the litigation arm of the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), a right-wing group that grew out of efforts to defend Clarence Thomas from sexual harassment allegations during his 1991 Supreme Court nomination. IWF was an outspoken supporter of Trump’s trickle-down tax cuts and has claimed (with scant evidence) that wealth taxes on unrealized gains “disproportionately harm women.”
    • Billionaire Charles Koch is a major funder of the Independent Women’s Forum. In 2019, the Charles Koch Foundation gave $100,000 to the Independent Women’s Forum. Between 2020 and 2021, the Charles Koch Institute gave $303,000 to the Independent Women’s Forum. The Independent Women’s Forum is also an associate member of the Koch-linked State Policy network.
    • Between 2020 and 2021, Leonard Leo’s 85 Fund gave the Independent Women’s Forum, the parent organization of the Law Center, $660,000. Leo’s Freedom and Opportunity Fund gave IWF’s advocacy arm $4 million in 2016-2017 during the fight over the seat vacated by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.
  • LIBERTY JUSTICE CENTER: The Liberty Justice Center is the litigation arm of the conservative Illinois Policy Institute, which opposed a recent Chicago ballot measure to tax luxury properties and fund homeless services, and has supported legal assaults on collective bargaining, gun safety measures, and public school funding.
    • The Liberty Justice Center received $1 million in 2021 from the Marcus Foundation, a charitable giving nonprofit run by Home Depot co-founder and Republican mega-donor Bernard Marcus. Marcus is also a 1993 inductee into the Horatio Alger Association, an exclusive circle of wealthy business elites that has lavished Clarence Thomas with luxury gifts and received unprecedented access to the Supreme Court building.
    • The Liberty Justice Center is an associate member of the Koch-linked State Policy Network.
  • LANDMARK LEGAL FOUNDATION: Landmark is a right-wing litigation group that has supported right-wing attacks on environmental regulations, labor unions, and consumer protection.
    • Landmark’s board is chaired by Fox News personality and multimillionaire Mark Levin, who has called Elizabeth Warren a “demagogue” for supporting an “unconstitutional” wealth tax. Levin has been a close personal friend of Clarence and Ginni Thomas for well over a decade. 
  • MANHATTAN INSTITUTE: The Manhattan Institute is a right-wing think tank that has defended trickle-down economics, spread climate denial propaganda at the behest of the fossil fuel industry, and argued for the privatization of social services.
    • The Manhattan Institute received $3,182,717 from Koch organizations and foundations between 1997 and 2017. The Manhattan Institute is also an associate member of the Koch-linked State Policy Network.
    • Multi-billionaire Paul Singer, a benefactor of Justice Alito, is the current Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Manhattan Institute. He contributed $8,760,000 to the Manhattan Institute between 2011 and 2022, funding $1,635,000 in 2022 alone.
    • Kathy Crow, wife of real estate mogul Harlan Crow, is a current Trustee of the Manhattan Institute.
  • CATO INSTITUTE: The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank that has long advocated for trickle-down economics and against wealth taxes, claiming they would remove the incentive to “invent new and better products, start new companies, increase efficiencies, and lower prices”. Cato also supports defunding social services like Social Security and public schools and eliminating key environmental, labor, and anti-discrimination protections.
    • The Cato Institute was co-founded by Charles Koch in 1977 under the original corporate name of the “Charles Koch Foundation, Inc.” Koch Industries and Koch nonprofits have given Cato tens of millions of dollars over the past 45 years. The Cato Institute is also an associate member of the Koch-linked State Policy Network.
  • U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: The Chamber is the largest corporate lobbying group in the country, representing predatory Wall Street banks and major fossil fuel companies, as well as some corporate criminals. The Chamber spends millions annually on federal lobbying and dark money political contributions to promote an anti-worker, anti-consumer, and anti-climate deregulatory agenda.
    • Chamber advisor Thomas Donohue and Chamber board member Frank VanderSloot are both inductees of the Horatio Alger Association, an exclusive circle of wealthy business elites that has lavished Clarence Thomas with luxury gifts and received unprecedented access to the Supreme Court building. 
    • Charles Koch’s foundation has given large amounts of money to bankroll the Chamber’s work, including a 2021 grant of $817,500 to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and a 2022 grant of $1.65 million to fund the Chamber’s JobSIDE initiative.
  • AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM (ATR): ATR is an anti-tax lobbying group founded by infamous anti-tax ideologue Grover Norquist, who has testified before Congress opposing “the creation of a wealth tax in any form”.
    • ATR has received funding from Charles Koch and various Koch network groups. In 2010, one-third of ATR’s $12.4 million annual revenue ($4,189,000) came from the Koch-tied Center to Protect Patient Rights. Americans for Tax Reform is also an associate member of the Koch-linked State Policy Network.
    • Leonard Leo’s Concord Fund gave $310,000 to Americans for Tax Reform between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022.
  • BUCKEYE INSTITUTE: The Buckeye Institute is a right-wing think tank that has promoted so-called “right-to-work” laws that result in lower wages, advocated against Medicaid expansion, and fear mongered about the effects of increasing the minimum wage. Buckeye has filed a petitioner-side amicus brief in both Loper Bright and Relentless.
    • The Buckeye Institute received just over $650,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation between 2016 and 2020, including a $250,000 grant in 2018, and a $100,000 grant in 2019. It additionally received over $300,000 from the Charles Koch Institute between 2018 and 2022, the bulk of that money coming from a $212,000 grant in 2020 and a $50,000 grant in 2021. The Buckeye Institute is also an affiliate member of the Koch-linked State Policy Network.
  • NATIONAL TAXPAYERS UNION (NTU): NTU is an anti-tax lobbying organization historically funded by Big Tobacco and conservative billionaires. In its brief filed in support of neither party in Moore, NTU bluntly states its belief that a “federal wealth tax would be unconstitutional”.
    • The Charles G. Koch Foundation contributed $463,030 between 2016 and 2020. The Charles Koch Institute also donated $304,000 in 2020 and $300,000 in 2021. The organization is also an associate member of the Koch-linked State Policy Network

Right-wing amicus filers in Moore have also been joined in their pro-billionaire crusade by MSNBC mainstay and former Acting Solicitor General NEAL KATYAL, a revolving-door hack who recently urged SCOTUS to not hold Nestle liable for its use of child slave labor. 

  • According to investigative reporter Julia Rock, Katyal’s amicus brief in Moore speculates that a wealth tax would negatively impact small businesses and middle-class families. The brief is co-authored by former Democratic senator John Breaux (a lobbyist who currently represents mega-corporations ExxonMobil, Norfolk Southern, and Boeing) and filed on behalf of an anti-tax lobbying group that helped kill Democratic efforts to close the stepped-up basis tax loophole. 

Want to learn more about the Supreme Court’s billionaire benefactors and their sprawling judicial lobbying networks? Check out our new website SupremeTransparency.org.

Ethics in GovernmentJudiciarySupreme CourtTaxes

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