Conservative legal activist Leonard Leo has gotten a lot of attention for his work to reshape the U.S. judicial system.

Ever since the summer, when he landed the biggest political advocacy donation in U.S. history (see ProPublica’s “How a Secretive Billionaire Handed His Fortune to the Architect of the Right-Wing Takeover of the Courts”), Leo has featured in story after story on the ways in which secretive funding from ultra-wealthy donors has shaped the courts and public policy. ­

With newly released tax filings from Schwab Charitable — one of the nation’s largest sponsors of what are called donor-advised funds — we have another major piece of information on how this “dark money” moves.

During its most recently reported fiscal year (July 2021 to June 2022), Schwab made an enormous grant of $141.5 million to the 85 Fund, a key part of Leo’s burgeoning empire, formerly known as the Judicial Education Project.  The 85 Fund is a 501(c)(3) public charity.



Unlike private foundations, donor-advised funds (DAFs) are not independent organizations that need to report their activities to the IRS and make those reports available to the public.

Instead, they’re accounts set up under a “sponsor” — in this case Schwab Charitable — a public charity that can house hundreds or even thousands of funds.

And while those sponsors need to file annual reports with the IRS, they do not have to report which of those DAFs make which grants.

That makes them ideal vehicles to conceal who the actual donors are behind sources of funding: if a private foundation made a similar grant it would show up on that foundation’s IRS filings attributed to the foundation, whose directors, officers, and finances are far more transparent.

Dan Petegorsky is a member of the Charity Reform Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies. You can follow him on Twitter @danpetegorsky.

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