A new meme is making its way around the Internet, showing a photo of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with the caption: "This [man's] family received $1.5 million from health care opponents... And is about to rule on health care reform."
The meme by Frank Chi, a digital strategist who advises Democratic campaigns and progressive organizations, has reintroduced the allegation just as anticipation is peaking over the Supreme Court's coming decision on the fate of the Affordable Care Act of 2010.
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But while there have been a number of questions about Thomas's possible conflict of interest, the $1.5 million number may be a conflation of several different figures.
The number seems to have first been circulated by Democratic lawmaker Andrei Cherny, a candidate for Arizona's 9th Congressional District and former aide and adviser to presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Cherny told an Arizona television station in April 2012 that Thomas ought be impeached for receiving $1.5 million from healthcare opponents and then not recusing himself from the Affordable Care Act case. The statement was reported on by progressive site Think Progress.
Cherny was echoing concerns voiced by 74 members of Congress earlier that year, who signed a letter to Justice Thomas warning of a conflict of interest if he ruled on healthcare reform. (You can read the letter at Kaiser Health News.)
But all of these questions revolve less around Thomas than they do his wife: Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, a conservative lobbyist and attorney in Washington.
Ginni Thomas has been a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act, and she has certainly made money off of that criticism. In 2009, she founded the Tea Party nonprofit lobbying group Liberty Central, which lobbied against the law. There, she made a salary of $120,000, according to the group's 2010 tax filing.
A startup donation to Liberty Central to the tune of $500,000 came from Harlan Crow, a Dallas real estate investor, Republican donor, and friend of Justice Thomas, Politico reported in 2011. Crow declined to comment to the New York Times about whether he was the source of the money.
Ginni Thomas later stepped down as CEO and president of Liberty Central, but started Liberty Consulting in 2010, which also did anti-healthcare reform lobbying, according to the liberal site Mother Jones.
And in January 2011, it came to light that Justice Thomas had "inadvertently" left out information about his wife's employment over the last 13 years—where her earnings added up to as much as $1.6 million, the Huffington Post reported.
One of her former employers: the Heritage Foundation, where Ginni Thomas made hundreds of thousands of dollars between 2003 and 2007, according to a letter from Thomas to the Committee on Financial Disclosure. The foundation has also been a vocal opponent of the healthcare reform law.
Thomas has repeatedly denied any conflict of interest.
Justice Thomas's financial disclosure report for financial year 2011 has not been released yet.
But the Supreme Court's decision is likely to come soon on the Affordable Care Act of 2010, and Justice Thomas will be among those to rule on it.
According to the federal recusal statute, a Supreme Court justice must recuse himself from any case "in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned."
Do you think Clarence Thomas should have recused himself?
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