Trump’s “judge whisperer” Leonard Leo, the Christian conservative largely responsible for moving the federal court system to the far right in the past decade, is deploying his powerful network to get a friend and former employee elected as Missouri’s next attorney general.
Will Scharf, a former federal prosecutor who worked briefly as a vice president at Leo’s public relations firm CRC Advisors, is challenging sitting Attorney General Andrew Bailey (R) in the August 2024 GOP primary—and leaping ahead of him in campaign cash.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons (R) appointed Bailey to replace former Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R), who was elected to the U.S. Senate last November. But the new attorney general has seen an exodus of key Schmitt staffers since taking office in January, one of whom told the National Review that, “Bailey is not going to be the conservative fighter that Eric Schmitt was.” Given his more “business-friendly” approach, conservative activists are concerned that he won’t have Schmitt’s “appetite for pushing back against critical race theory in schools” or going after “woke” corporations, the National Review reported.
Widely known for his tremendous influence in reshaping the U.S. Supreme Court and moving the federal judiciary to the right, Leo is now aiming to “counter what he sees as an increasing leftward tilt in society,” according to The New York Times.
In January 2020, Leo told Axios that he was stepping down from running the right-wing Federalist Society to lead CRC Advisors with communications executive Greg Mueller, starting with a “minimum $10 million issue advocacy campaign focusing on judges in the 2020 cycle.” Still, Leo remains closely involved with the Federalist Society as co-chair of its board of directors.
Scharf, who served as president of a Federalist Society chapter as a law student at Harvard from 2008–11, also reportedly worked as a consultant for Leo’s Judicial Crisis Network (JCN)—since rebranded The Concord Fund—where he was “actively involved” in getting Brett Kavanaugh confirmed as one of Trump’s picks for the Supreme Court.
Both Leo and Mueller, along with Mueller’s wife Charmaine, have maxed out their individual contributions to their hand-picked candidate’s campaign, according to Citizens for Scharf’s January filing. That month, the candidate told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he considers Leo “a dear friend and mentor.”
Of the $575,000 raised by Defend Missouri, the political action committee supporting Scharf’s run, $500,000 has come from Leo’s Concord Fund, according to the PAC’s April filing.
If Scharf defeats Bailey and wins in the general election, he will likely join the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), a cash-for-influence operation that coordinates the official actions of Republican state attorneys general and sells its corporate funders access to them and their staff.
The Concord Fund is on record as the largest donor to RAGA in 2020, 2021, and 2022, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has reported, giving $4 million last year alone. In 2019, RAGA presented Leo with a “special award” for helping to “shape the trajectory of RAGA and the conservative legal movement more than anyone else.”
RAGA also pays Leo’s Creative Response Concepts—now known as CRC Advisors—$7,500 per month for “consulting,” according to 2022 IRS filings.
In 2022, RAGA Executive Director Peter Bisbee and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey spurned Bailey, their RAGA colleague, and contributed $250 and $2,000, respectively, to Scharf instead.
Disclosures reveal that in addition to Leo and Mueller, other executives at CRC Advisors have also supported Scharf’s campaign, with CFO Neil Corkery and his wife Ann each contributing $1,000, President Jonathan Bunch and his wife Amanda each giving $2,650, and Senior Executive Maria Marshall donating $1,000.
For years, the Corkerys have served at the center of Leo’s dark money network. Ann is listed in the filing as an attorney for The 85 Fund, one of Leo’s right-wing funding vehicles, and earns $256,000 per year as a counsel for The Concord Fund. In addition to his role at CRC Advisors, Neil has worked for Leo as treasurer of the JCN, president of the Judicial Education Project (as it was known before being renamed The 85 Fund), treasurer of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, and president of the now-shuttered Wellspring Committee.
Other Leo operatives who lead organizations at the center of the Right’s culture wars have also contributed to Scharf’s campaign. Will Hild, executive director of the Leo-funded group Consumers’ Research that is on the frontlines in the attacks on so-called “woke capitalism;” and Nicole Neily, president of the nonprofit Parents Defending Education that is purportedly fighting for parents’ rights, both contributed smaller amounts—in the hundreds—to Bailey’s challenger.
Donor at the Center of the Supreme Court Ethics Scandal Backs Scharf
Real estate tycoon Harlan Crow and his wife Kathy, close friends of Leo and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni, maxed out contributions at $2,650 each to Scharf, according to his April campaign filing.
In April, ProPublica reported that Thomas has been accepting luxury trips and lavish gifts from Crow for over 20 years without disclosing them. The story featured a painting—unearthed by True North Research— hanging in Crow’s private resort that depicts him, Thomas, Leo, and others “discussing the law” and illustrates the extremely tight relationship between these men.
Another close associate of Leo’s, the right-wing philanthropist Roger Hertog, gave $50,000, the second largest donation made to Defend Missouri. He and Leo have been working together in similar activist circles since at least 2005.
Rounding out the leading contributions to Defend Missouri are right-wing donors Isaac Perlmutter, chairman of Marvel Entertainment, and his wife Laura, who together gave $25,000. Perlmutter has emerged as a major GOP donor since Trump’s first presidential run in 2016.
- Ken Kendrick, owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team: $2,825
- Randy Kendrick, general manager of the Diamondbacks: $2,825
- Suzie Kovner, wife of retired billionaire hedge fund manager Bruce Kovner: $2,000
- Robert Kraft, chairman of Kraft Group and owner of the New England Patriots football team: $2,825
- Bernard Marcus, retired founder and CEO of Home Depot: $2,825
- Paul Singer, billionaire co-CEO of Elliott Investment Management: $2,650
- Deborah Hochberg, senior advisor at The Paul E. Singer Foundation: $2,825