Justice Clarence Thomas secretly attended events for the right-wing Koch donor network despite the group arguing for cases before the Supreme Court, according to a report.
Judge Thomas flew in on a private jet in 2018 to speak at the conservative network's annual winter donor meeting in Palm Springs, California, according to ProPublica.
While at the event, he was invited to a private dinner for donors, the agency reported Friday. It was at least the second event Justice Thomas attended and did not publicly state.
Judge Thomas has been criticized for a series of expensive vacations and gifts he has received from billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crowe, which he also did not disclose.
These include a trip on a luxury yacht, renovating his mother's house and private school tuition for his nephew. In the 2022 financial disclosures, Judge Thomas revealed that Mr Crowe had paid for his travel and meal expenses three times last year.
Mr Crowe denied the men ever discussed any case before the court, but it has led to calls for stricter ethics rules for the country's highest court.
The Koch Network, founded by brothers Charles and David Koch, is one of the most influential political groups in the US.
He has donated millions of dollars to a conservative legal group, the Cause of Action Institute, which is trying to get rid of a legal tool that helps federal agencies defend environmental rules in court. The case begins in October.
“I can't imagine — it takes my breath away, frankly — that he would go to a Koch network event for donors,” John E Jones III, a retired federal judge appointed by George W Bush, told ProPublica.
“What you're seeing is a slow creep toward unethical behavior. Do it if you can get away with it.”
The Koch Network, which is officially known as “Stand Together,” defended Justice Thomas in a statement.
“There is a long tradition of public officials, including Supreme Court justices, sharing their experiences, ideas and judicial philosophy with members of the public at dinners and other events. All sitting justices and many who came before them have contributed to the national dialogue with speeches, book tours, and social gatherings. Our events are no different. To claim otherwise is false,” the statement said.
And the group added: “The Stand Together summit in January 2018 was attended by several hundred people, including members of the media who covered the event. In fact, Stand Together has hosted dozens of summits over the decades. The idea that attending a few events to promote a book or to dinner, as all judges do, could somehow be undue influence just doesn't hold water.”
In 2010 donors received an invitation to an event that said Judge Thomas had spoken at a previous summit.