The Washington Post

Is Heritage raising millions for access to Clarence Thomas?

A report Friday by Politico’s Ken Vogel (“Inside the Koch World convention”) gets as close of a look as anybody has been able to get at the ultra-exclusive Koch World convention to be held this month in San Diego. There, Vogel writes, dozens of the wealthiest conservatives are expected to write millions of dollars in checks that will be distributed to a number of organizations the Kochs back.

At the center of the operation are a few key players, including Kevin Gentry, who raises money for the network of Koch-backed organizations, some of which are prominent conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation. Gentry was also appointed to the Cato Institute’s board by the Koch brothers, although Cato says it receives no money from the group.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In a weekly email to the network, Gentry passes along tips on donor prospecting and maintenance and cites best practices. For example, in a February email obtained by POLITICO, he shared advice from a Heritage fundraiser who suggested his group won the loyalty of a million-dollar donor who attended Koch summits by introducing him to big names who spoke at Heritage events, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

To be sure, the Heritage Foundation would not be the only think tank in Washington that attracts interest and gains prestige by bringing in high profile names to speak at events.

But when asked if Heritage fundraises among wealthy donors by providing special access to high profile individuals, Rory Cooper, director of communications at the Heritage Foundation declined to directly comment on the claim.

“We don’t comment on cherry-picked e-mails and second-hand remarks taken out of context,” said Cooper. “It’s akin to overhearing a conversation in a crowded restaurant and misreporting aspects of it.”

Allen McDuffee writes about politics and policy and covered think tanks for The Washington Post from 2011 to 2013. He freelances and hosts a podcast at and is currently working on a book about the influence of think tanks in Washington.


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