What Just Happened? Senator Dick Durbin has announced the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on a subpoena to Robin Pickering Arkley II on Thursday, November 9, as the Committee investigates the big Supreme Court ethics scandals.
The Committee is also planning to issue subpoenas to billion-dollar trust fund operator Leonard Leo, who helped arrange expensive trips and more for justices, and to billionaire Harlan Crow, who has provided luxury travel and more to Justice Thomas. Senator Durbin and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse first requested information about those luxury gifts in July, but Rob Arkley, Leo, and Crow refused to provide information.
Arkley Is Less Well Known But a Player. Most coverage has focused on Leo, who helms a dark money influence machine that helped pack the U.S. Supreme Court with right-wing activists committed to overturning Roe v. Wade and more, and Crow, who has given a shocking array of valuable secret gifts to Thomas (including luxury travel to exclusive locales, tuition for Thomas’ ward, and the purchase and refurbishment of the home of Thomas’ mother). But Arkley has received far less attention. Here are five things to know about Rob Arkley.
- He Has Been a Rich Benefactor of Supreme Court Justices. Arkley underwrote exclusive, secret trips for Supreme Court justices, Sam Alito and Antonin Scalia. As ProPublica reported this summer, Arkley provided at least one luxury vacation to Sam Alito that Alito never disclosed, despite his attestation that he accurately provided disclosures required by the Ethics in Government Act. Alito has mounted an unprecedented PR campaign to assail the Senate’s investigation by performing a Q&A with David Rivkin, whom he asserted was a journalist but whose day job is working as a right-wing lawyer with business before the Court and who is representing Leonard Leo in trying to block the Senate’s investigation of influence peddling. Alito also signed an assertion that he fully complies with voluntary ethical rules, a claim Chief Justice John Roberts reiterated in his efforts to thwart Senate action on a mandatory Code of Conduct. But ProPublica’s reporting team–Justin Elliot, Josh Kaplan, and Alex Mierjeski–came with receipts in the form of photos of Alito’s expensive salmon fishing trip as well as eye-witness accounts that Alito’s trip was funded by Arkley. That reporting noted that Arkley also provided luxury travel to Justice Antonin Scalia and may also have befriended Justice Clarence Thomas.
- He Has Been Focused on Getting GOP Judges on the Federal Courts for Almost Two Decades. On another salmon fishing trip, Arkley reportedly spoke with Justice Scalia about eliminating the filibuster to get GOP-nominated judges confirmed. According to an eyewitness account noted in ProPublica, Arkley spoke with Justice Scalia about the prospects for Senate Republicans to eliminate the power of Sen. Tom Daschle and Democrats to filibuster GOP judicial nominees. That was back when the Senate had confirmed more than 98% of President George W. Bush’s federal judicial nominees but had filibustered about a dozen considered to be too extreme to be confirmed to lifetime jobs as judges. Scalia did not disclose that salmon-fishing trip–which was on a boat called the Happy Hooker IV, a trip that included martinis chilled by ice chipped from a glacier, as ProPublica reported–on his 2004 disclosure required under the Ethics in Government Act.
- Anti-Marriage Equality, too. Shortly after that trip, Arkley funded “you’re fired” ads against Daschle in the 2004 election against John Thune. Arkley was not the only funder of Republican efforts to punish the Senate Democratic leader for trying to protect fair courts, but Daschle lost by about 4500 votes. As the Nation noted: Arkley’s anti-Daschle ads mimicked “The Apprentice” with a Donald Trump-like actor asserting “We have one too many Democrats around here and that’s not a good thing … ‘You’re fired’…. Another Arkley ad charged that Daschle ‘refused to protect marriage’ and ‘would let liberal, activist judges redefine it.’” Notably, Alito’s opinion in the Dobbs case reversing Roe called into question the Supreme Court’s precedents protecting marriage equality and Americans’ constitutional rights to access contraception without government interference.
- Arkley Has Been a Long-Time Confederate of Leo on Who Gets to Be a Judge. A few weeks after the 2004 election, which Bush won, Arkley helped launch the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) after a dinner with Scalia, Leo, and Others. As the Daily Beast reported, Arkley attended a private dinner after the 2004 presidential election with Leo, Scalia, and Ann Corkery, among others, where the creation of what was initially called the “Judicial Confirmation Network” (JCN) and the “Judicial Education Project” (JEP) were conceived. According to Daily Beast reporters Viveca Novak and Peter Stone, “‘The big prize was to sit next to Scalia,’ quipped one attendee at the soiree, adding that Arkley was one such lucky winner.” Shortly after that dinner, those groups were created and then received funding from Arkley. Corkery’s husband, Neil, became JCN’s treasurer.
- As Emma Brown, Shawn Boburg, and Jonathan O’Connell reported for the Washington Post earlier this year, JEP was the vehicle through which Leo secretly arranged to pay Ginni Thomas, the spouse of Clarence Thomas, after she ran into controversy helming “Liberty Central.” This September, Heidi Przybyla of Politico reported on how Justice Thomas cast a vote in the 5-4 Citizens United case in 2010, even though one of his billionaire benefactors, Harlan Crow, had staked Ginni for that group with a $500K gift. She also detailed how JEP, which was led by Neil Corkery, had received money to fund Ginni’s pay from the Wellspring Committee, which was run by his wife, Ann Corkery, from a secret donor. Ann had previously worked closely for Arkley.
- As the Daily Beast described their relationship: “Robin Arkley, the president and CEO of Security National Corp. who had tapped Corkery to be his political liaison and senior advisor,became a key underwriter of JCN’s operations, to the tune of the high six or low seven figures, sources say.” However, it is not publicly known who Leo tapped to secretly pay Ginni, and both Leo and JEP refused to answer questions from Politico about if and when secret payments to Ginni stopped.
- It is also not known how much Ginni has received from such secret arrangements. The Washington Post detailed at least $100K in payments in 2011-2012. Leo has built relationships with several billionaires, including Arkley and Barre Seid, who recently gave Leo the $1.6 billion Marble Freedom Trust. There is no public information about which billionaire or multimillionaire has funded Ginni’s pay or if they have had any cases before the Court or funded groups that have submitted amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to change the law.
- With Arkley’s Funding JCN Aided Alito’s Confirmation. In its first two years of operation, JCN spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads to help Roberts and Alito get confirmed. Notably, Leo had personally mounted a campaign to get Alito nominated to the Supreme Court. As reported previously, JCN worked “in tandem with a well-organized conservative coalition — in which [Leonard] Leo, the Federalist Society’s executive vice president, was a key player.” In fact, according to documents provided to the public during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s consideration of the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, Leo ran the “umbrella group” that orchestrated the groups pushing for confirmation of Bush’s judicial nominees in that period, dating back to at least 2003.
- JCN Has Deep Ties to Leo. Since its beginnings, JCN has been led by close allies of Leo, most recently Carrie Severino, whose office was down the hall from Leo’s at the Federalist Society, according to Washington Post investigative reporters Robert O’Harrow and Shawn Boburg. In 2020, when Leo announced he was leaving his day job at the Federalist Society to lead its board and launch the for–profit firm called CRC Advisors (formerly Creative Response Concepts), he also announced that JCN would be renamed the “Concord Fund,” perhaps a reference to the location of the first battle of the Revolutionary War, and JEP was rebranded “The 85 Fund.” These groups receive funding channeled from Leo’s new billion-dollar trust fund and advance his agenda to change the law and reverse legal precedents protecting Americans’ rights, as with reversing Roe v. Wade, through who gets chosen for the Supreme Court, state supreme courts, and other offices.
- Arkley Has Been Called a “Foreclosure King.” Arkley’s wealth seemingly grew due in part to foreclosures on people’s homes during the financial crisis before and after Wall Street’s 2008 crash during the George W. Bush administration Arkley has been called a “foreclosure king.” He runs a privately held company called Security National Master Holding Company that reportedly has billions in assets, and he is often described as a billionaire, although he does not appear on the Forbes list of billionaires. Jennifer Taub noted in her book, “Other People’s Houses: How Decades of Bailouts, Captive Regulators, and Toxic Bankers Made Home Mortgages a Thrilling Business,” that Arkley’s holding company includes numerous real estate acquisition and management companies, which reportedly made a fortune during that crisis a decade ago and since then. The Supreme Court is currently considering a case challenging the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB), which is one of the reforms Congress passed to protect American consumers as a result of that financial crisis. It is unclear if and how the CFPB may regulate or limit Arkley’s business activities. The Court is also considering a case about taxes on “unrealized gains” that could benefit numerous super-wealthy individuals. It is not clear if a ruling in this case would affect any of Arkley’s financial interests or not.
- Arkley’s Father Attacked Protections for Endangered Species and Was Embroiled in Other Controversies. Arkley’s family fortune was built in part by his father, a lumber baron who fought the Endangered Species Act’s protection of the Northern Spotted Owl in old growth forests. Rob Arkley, Sr., and his family built a fortune from harvesting timber from national forests–and not without controversy. Through the patriarch’s company, Blue Lake Forest Products, he sued the United States for suspending timber operations in the Klamath National Forest that threatened the old growth forest habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl, for which he sought nearly $1 million in damages. Arkley’s company lost that case in a ruling by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in 2009. Arkley’s father, Rob Arkley, Sr., was also a long-time trustee of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which carried out numerous legal fights against the Endangered Species Act, wetlands protections, critical habitat protections for marine species, and efforts to redress racial discrimination.
- Other Controversies: Tribal Property and Petro-Toxics. That company also took possession of nearly $1 million of logs from theHoopa Valley tribe and then failed to pay for the millions of feet of wood and instead declared bankruptcy. The tribe won its suit for the logs in 1995. (More recently, Arkley II wanted to block a municipal effort to provide other land to a native tribe.) Another Blue Lake Forest Products operation, a mill site in Glendale, California, discharged dioxins and other toxic carcinogens into the Mad River, which flows into the potable water uptakes for the Humboldt Bay municipal water supply. That company declared bankruptcy in 2002.