If you follow big money in politics, you’ve probably heard the name Barre Seid pop up over the last few days. Until recently, Seid was the sole owner of Tripp Lite, a $1.65 billion dollar electronics manufacturer that makes surge protectors and power strips, server racks, computer cooling equipment, and other devices you find in massive data centers, and in your home.
At 90 years old, however, Seid appears to be attempting to secure his legacy, and left 100% of the shares of his company to the Marble Freedom Trust – under the care of one Leonard Leo.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing who either of these men are – they have worked hard to keep low profiles over the years. But with the largest single donation to a political advocacy group in history, both men are now facing increased public scrutiny.
The largest single donation to a political advocacy group in history was structured to avoid as much as $400 million in taxes. While it may be shocking that a conservative billionaire is involved in a tax avoidance scheme, he did once bankroll a political party in Illinois called the Term Limits & Tax Limits Party.
Barre Seid, the Koch Brothers, and Leonard Leo
While Barre Seid may not have the name recognition of some other conservative mega-donors like the Koch brothers, he has been quietly giving to right-wing causes for decades. ProPublica reports that between 1996 and 2018, he gave at least $775 million in charitable donations, mostly to conservative organizations.
It’s not surprising, then, that Seid and the Koch brothers have teamed up at least once before, making a $30 million donation to the law school at George Mason University in 2016 to rename it after the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Although the donation was made anonymously, it was later revealed that $10 million came from the Koch brothers, and the other $20 million appeared to come from Seid, in a deal that was facilitated by none other than Leonard Leo.
Documents uncovered by the watchdog group UnKoch My Campus showed that Leo and his donors were after more than just a name change – the donation meant they would get a say in who was getting hired to teach, and in the admissions process. This appears to be part of a broader attempt to steer law school curriculums more toward right-wing legal theories, and create a pipeline for conservative legal scholars to gain positions of power. And it has proven largely successful – ideas that were once considered fringe conservative legal theories have started to work their way into the mainstream over the past few decades.
Leo – the longtime vice president of the Federalist Society and more recently Trump’s ‘judge whisperer’ – has been the primary driver of this effort. He has had a hand in the nomination and confirmation process of all six conservative justices on the Supreme Court. He directed tens of millions of dollars from anonymous donors to groups like the Judicial Crisis Network, which used the money to run massive ad campaigns supporting conservative nominees and attacking moderate picks like Merrick Garland and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
In some cases, Leo also recommended the nominees. His influence on America’s judicial system has been unparalleled – a long-time friend and sometimes vacation buddy Justice Clarence Thomas once half-jokingly referred to him as “the third most powerful person in the world.”
Now, thanks to Seid, Leo has control of an unprecedented war chest that he can use to ramp up his efforts to stack the courts and entrench extreme conservatives in positions of power – people who hold dangerous views on voting rights, reproductive rights, guns, climate change, and other issues, and are out of touch with the American people.
Seid: A Conservative Mega Donor with Ties to Islamophobic Groups and White Nationalism
In 2008, Seid appears to have donated $17 million to a nonprofit that sent millions of voters in swing states copies of a film called “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War With the West.” The film was criticized as being “virulently anti-Muslim,” and complaints against the organization behind the distribution alleged that it violated its nonprofit status. The targeted distribution appeared to be a thinly-veiled attempt to affect the outcome of the 2008 election by playing to anti-Muslim sentiments, creating a connection between Islamic extremism and a presidential candidate who happened to have an Arabic middle name.
As if these ties weren’t already concerning enough, new Accountable.US research has also uncovered that Seid once supported a political party that nominated a white nationalist for political office in his home state of Illinois.
Back in 1994, Seid gave over $300,000 and loaned an additional $385,000 to a newly-formed political party called the Term Limits & Tax Limits Party – well over half the total amount the short-lived party raised. The party’s candidate for governor, Steven Baer, was known for being anti-tax and anti-abortion, and most of its support came from anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ advocates, who accused the Republican incumbent and his Democratic challenger of having “the same liberal positions on gays, gambling and abortion.”
But gubernatorial hopeful Steven Baer was arguably less extreme than the Party’s candidate for Secretary of State. William Regnery II, heir to a small textile fortune, did not come close to winning his race – in fact, the party failed to get its candidates on the ballot – but a few years later Regnery did go on to found the Charles Martel Society and The National Policy Institute.
These organizations may sound innocuous to those who don’t know, but both promote racial segregation and creating a white ethnostate. Regnery himself dated his turn to white nationalism to 1993, the year before Seid helped fund the party that launched Regnery’s political aspirations. As he later wrote, Regnery “saw nascent political correctness stifling debate, unrestricted immigration changing the demographics of the country, affirmative action penalizing whites and open housing curtailing freedom of association.”
In the 2010s, Regnery also helped launch the career of the more famous white nationalist Richard Spencer, who was Regnery’s hand-picked successor at the National Policy Institute, and its current president.