Smart v. Stupid
Liberty Central: Repo’d by the Koch brothers?
Virginia Thomas sidelined by new management with Koch brothers ties
Even before the Anita Hill phone message, it had become increasingly clear that Ginni Thomas was a loose cannon. Who knew what might spill out next? So in short order earlier this week, Ginni Thomas was pushed aside and a new Liberty Central leader, an attorney named Sarah Field, said she’s the new spokesperson.
If my attempts to find or contact her are any indication, Fields appears to be a very good secret keeper.
On November 15th, The Washington Post reported that Liberty Central’s long-established publicist (who never returned my emails anyway) said Thomas would be stepping down.
“She'll take a back seat so that Liberty Central can continue with its mission without any of the distractions.” This came as a surprise to me and other Ginni watchers since – near as we could tell – Liberty Central’s only “mission” consisted of incoherent pep talks at Tea Party rallies and selling something called the “Liberty Foam Visor.” (It aims to make any woman look like that famous French lady on Ellis Island.) The publicist also reported that Liberty Central would be merging with the Patrick Henry Center, a nearby nonprofit promoting the legacy of its namesake.
Later that same afternoon, Sarah Field, now identifying herself as the spokesperson for Liberty Central, debunked the merger rumor but confirmed that Thomas would play a reduced role. She said “The sources of this story appear to be people without full understanding of the facts.” We can probably assume by “sources” she means Ginni Thomas. Coup d'état anyone?
Ms. Field is notable in that her last employer was the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, where she flogged something called the “Science of Liberty.” When I called the Koch Foundation looking for her, they first said they didn’t know her. Then they said I could leave a message for her.
Liberty Central is not really an organization. It exists only in cyberspace. It has one of those websites – newly revamped in a style that screams Astroturf – that aims to obscure by omission. They don’t provide an address or phone number and they make you fill out a form instead of giving an email address. It’s the kind of mysterious website you wouldn’t use to purchase a consumer product. It’s also an unusual approach for a real grassroots organization. The Patrick Henry Center, for example, publishes an address, phone number and email. Generally, grassroots groups do outreach.
Incorporated in Delaware, Liberty Central’s founding documents locate it in a Richmond attorney’s office. On its 2009 IRS 990 tax filing, the listed address is a UPS Store in Burke, Virginia. UPS offers mailbox services there. This address is not properly listed as a “care of” address on tax forms, a violation of IRS rules. Virginia Thomas’ address – as principal officer – is similarly in violation.
A Superpages.com search offers an actual phone number and the address, 10431 Fairfax Blvd, Fairfax, Virginia (just across the street from the Patriot Café, in case you were wondering.)
This address is a large, windowless building owned by Verizon. Local letter carrier Jason Herald says it’s just a switching center. “Liberty Central,” I asked? “Yea, they’re not there. I’ve gotten several pieces of mail for them. I mark each one ‘Return to Sender’ and send it back.” (Liberty Central really doesn’t want to hear from “the grassroots,” it seems.)
“I was just listening about them on the radio,” he added. About the scandal, it turns out.
So Ginni Thomas is back-benched, replaced by someone with Koch connections. That could just be a coincidence, huh? After all, this is just a small, grassroots organization. They’d be lucky to be able to hire someone with Koch brothers connections, right?
Well, not really. Consider another new hire, H. Lillian Vogl, who joined the team right about the time Think Progress and the New York Times started sniffing around. She’s also an attorney, formerly of Covington and Burling where she did lobbying, according to her resume. C&B represents both Koch Industries and Conoco, a Koch subsidiary. Vogl’s resume seems to indicate that she would be required to register as a lobbyist, but she never did. Whoops.
Think Progress has done a ton of original reporting on the strange links between Justice Clarence Thomas, the Koch Brothers, Citizens United and Liberty Central. We’ve already established that Clarence Thomas (and Antonin Scalia) attended Koch brothers meetings intended to “review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it” and “change the balance of power in Congress this November.”
We’ve established that Liberty Central was set up after the Citizens United decision allowed for it. We know Liberty Central accepted just two donations in 2009, one for $50,000 and one for $500,000. I broke the news that tax filings revealed the organization didn’t spend the money on programs or services. It is highly unusual for a nonprofit to receive such a large gift without a plan or a need.
Now we learn that the new chief operating officer arrived straight from the Koch Foundation, and the new director of policy is from the firm that represents Koch and Conoco. Add in the secretive nature of the organization, it’s unwillingness to explain Koch ties, its unwillingness to name its donors, the issue of 990 filing errors, the fact that it seems to have no real address, and whether its director of policy should be registered as a lobbyist and you have a lot of questions left on the ethics table.
Today, we’ve added three other pieces to the puzzle – Liberty Central doesn’t really exist. It doesn’t really want anyone to find it. And with the backgrounds of these two new leaders, Liberty Central has come full circle – back to the Koch brothers.
It is well past time to drag all of this obfuscation out from under the rock. We are overdue to find out for sure whether our democracy – our rule of law and justice – were sold for the paltry sum of half a million dollars. It’s time to open a criminal investigation.
I left messages for Sarah Field, both at the Charles Koch Foundation and at a number for Liberty Central that I was able to discover. At press time, neither call was returned.
Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”