Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Justice Thomas's Wife May Be Exiting Advocacy Group





November 15, 2010


Justice Thomas’s Wife May Be Exiting Advocacy Group



WASHINGTON — Liberty Central, the conservative organization founded last year by Virginia Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, appears to be confronting major changes, including the possibility that Ms. Thomas will step aside.


A person with knowledge of her plans said Monday that he believed Ms. Thomas planned to resign as chief executive of the advocacy group, which worked to harness the energy of the Tea Party movement. It was unclear what role, if any, she would retain with the group, which she founded last year to oppose what she characterized as the “tyranny” of President Obama’s agenda.


The Washington Post reported on its Web site Monday that Ms. Thomas would give up control of the group.


The Post also reported that Ms. Thomas’s group, a nonprofit, appeared ready to merge with another conservative organization, the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, which is based in Manassas, Va. But Sarah Field, the chief operating officer for Liberty Central, said in an e-mail on Monday that no decision had been made about a merger.


“There are many opportunities being presented to Liberty Central, but there is no agreement at this time,” Ms. Field wrote. “In fact, there are several options on the table. As everyone knows, the Tea Party movement is a very fast-paced, dynamic movement and there are always these sorts of collaborative opportunities being discussed. Precisely because of Liberty Central’s effectiveness, many of these opportunities did present themselves to us and they are still in the discussion stages.”


Ms. Field added, “The sources of this story appear to be people without full understanding of the facts.”


As the spouse of a sitting Supreme Court justice with an active political life herself, Ms. Thomas has played an unusual role in Washington and has been the subject of increasing attention. In speeches to Tea Party rallies and in appearances on Fox News, Ms. Thomas has boasted of her group’s influence in helping to set the conservative agenda.


“Liberty Central will be bigger than the Tea Party movement,” she told Fox News in April, at a Tea Party rally in Atlanta.


Ms. Thomas had spoken at a Virginia Tea Party event in October, delivering a call to arms on behalf of conservative principles to more than 2,000 people.


But Ms. Thomas’s political activism has become an increasingly visible issue as experts in legal ethics questioned the appearance of the wife of a sitting justice accepting large contributions on behalf of her organization.


To start the group, Ms. Thomas accepted two donations of $500,000 and $50,000. Because her organization is a nonprofit covered by a particular part of the tax code, it is not required to identify the donors.


Ms. Thomas also made headlines last month after telephoning Anita F. Hill, who accused Justice Thomas of sexual harassment at his confirmation hearings in 1991, and asking for an apology. Ms. Hill declined.


As of Monday morning, a video by Ms. Thomas remained on the main fund-raising page for the Liberty Central Web site, which describes itself as focusing on “protecting America’s founding principles through education, civil discourse and citizen activism.”



“Our goal is to equip citizen leaders to lobby for liberty in as little as 3-5 minutes a day,” it says.


There has been no indication of a change on the Web site of the Patrick Henry group either. A spokesman for that organization responded to an inquiry by saying, “Thanks for reaching out, unfortunately I have no information and am not able to confirm any reports.”


The Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty was founded by Gary Aldrich, a former F.B.I. agent who became a critic of President Bill Clinton and wrote a book about his administration.


If Ms. Thomas leaves Liberty Central, her future is unclear. Craig Shirley, a conservative political consultant and the author of a biography of President Ronald Reagan, praised the work Ms. Thomas has done on behalf of conservatism.


“Everybody in the conservative movement understands that groups and individuals come and go,” Mr. Shirley said, “but it is the ideas that are important and carry on. Mrs. Thomas contributed greatly to those ideas being carried forward.”

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

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