The Dark Seid
There's a new Pope Leo. He owns the Supreme Court. And now, he has more money than God.
The horror of the 91-year-old reclusive billionaire Barre Seid—his name rhymes with “parricide”—bequeathing $1.6 billion of his vast fortune to radical Catholic forced birth activist and Supreme Court fixer Leonard Leo did not hit home for me until this week, when I read Nina Burleigh’s article in the New Republic. Her must-read piece is titled “Who Is Leonard Leo’s New Dark Money King?,” but the question I found myself asking after finishing it was: How can democracy possibly survive this?
Seid made his vast fortune selling power strips. He’s now spent it ensuring that his power, and the power of his cohort of rich, soulless, libertarian assholes, will not be easily stripped away. As Burleigh writes, the $1,600,000,000 gift is basically “altruism in reverse: a fire hose of cash aimed at destroying American liberal culture through lawsuits and support for politicians challenging gay rights, unions, environmental protection, voting rights, and public education.”
Yes, I know, the guy’s given considerable sums of money to the arts. His wife is an opera singer, so he’s endowed the opera. Wow, what a man of the people! Call me crazy, but I think that in order to call yourself a philanthropist, your charitable donations have to actually, you know, help humanity. Now Seid’s passed the one-point-six-billion-dollar baton to Leo, the dark money maestro, who will conduct an aria of his own. And because of the breathtaking size of the endowment, in Payoff Lenny’s metaphorical opera, the fat lady will never sing. Burleigh explains this horror:
The money will last a good long while. Philanthropic recipients usually follow a 5 percent rule: They try not to spend more than 5 percent of the endowment per year. Seid’s pile is so large that it could return an average $136 million a year, or north of $230 million on a good year, to influence U.S. law and policy. Without ever having to touch the nut. For a sense of how enormous that is, consider this. The Heritage Foundation and its affiliates spent about $86 million in 2021. Heritage is a huge, and hugely influential, conservative think tank. Leo could create two Heritage Foundations and one more sizable organization on the side—all, again, without having to dip into the principal at all.
Another rich soulless libertarian asshole, Elon Musk, won’t stop yammering about the “woke mind virus.” That’s a shit analogy, though. What more closely resembles a virus is the Seid gift to Leo. Once released into the world, that self-perpetuating dark-money fortune is almost impossible to get rid of. It is a herpes sore. It will flare up again and again and again, ad infinitum, because there is no easy cure for Citizens United.
There is much in Burleigh’s piece that feels like a gut punch: Seid, who is Jewish, giving his fortune to a Catholic extremist. The way he structured the deal to avoid paying estate taxes, thus depriving the public dole of funds. The massive toxic waste dump his companies contributed to, that he seems not to care about one iota. His takeover of a small liberal arts college, and its immediate makeover into a libertarian arts college. The aforementioned opera. And the infuriating fact that, like Clarence Thomas, his personal story is the sort of thing that we would like to root for, not against.
But Seid has fucked us—like Harlan Crow fucked us, like Sheldon Adelson fucked us, like the Kochs fucked us. Like John Roberts and his SCOTUS cronies fucked us with the catastrophically awful Citizens United decision that may still destroy democracy in the United States.
The war chest regenerates like the liver of Prometheus. Seid has gifted Leonard Leo all the Infinity Stones. Spend five percent, invest the rest, and the interest alone will finance far-right fuckery until Florida sinks into the sea. Burleigh lays out the grim economics here:
The Federalist Society, with an annual expenditure of around $20 million, remade the Supreme Court and seeded the federal bench with enough extremists to overturn gun control laws in places like New York and Chicago, chip away at the Affordable Care Act, and overturn the Food and Drug Administration when it comes to approval of an abortion pill. Leo’s people spent a mere $6.5 million to gin up an amicus curiae machine that, for example, aims to ensure that discriminating against gay people is federally protected.
Why stop there? With Seid’s help, Leo and friends can blow $30 million a year—almost twice the Federalist Society’s old budget, a drop from the Seid bucket—pushing the federal bench further to the right. They could blow another $30 million promoting lies about fossil fuels. And another $30 million helping radical right-wing state legislators ban the teaching of slavery. They could found a whole institution dedicated to the cherished extremist goal of ending the progressive income tax. Spend $100 million on that project—and still not have touched the principal.
Most Americans don’t share Leonard Leo’s creepy, fascistic predilections. And all the money in the world won’t make his extreme anti-abortion, anti-woman, virulently homophobic policies popular. But if you essentially buy the entire judicial branch of the federal government, and you use your considerable influence in the statehouses to gerrymander the fuck out of the districts to tilt the vote your way, the will of the people becomes secondary to the will of a radical Catholic weirdo from Central Jersey with a passion for enjoying fine wine and stripping away the rights of women and the LGBTQ community. As Burleigh puts it—and this is not hyperbole—“Medieval popes had less power.”
Popes, of course, like their robed counterparts on the U.S. Supreme Court, get the job for life. Even the corrupt and odious likes of John XII, Alexander VI, and Leo X died eventually. Neither Leonard Leo nor Clarence Thomas nor Sam Alito nor John Roberts are immortal. But Seid’s fortune has eternal life.
Read Nina’s piece.
There is no new PREVAIL podcast today. New episodes resume next week. Here is the link to watch The Five 8 tonight:
Photo credit: Wikipedia. John Collier’s “A Glass of Wine with Caesar Borgia” (1893). Ipswich Town Hall, Suffolk. With Leonard Leo’s head attached.
How very depressing.
Ugh. This is more depressing than anything else I've read this morning, and I've been reading some depressing stuff. Have a lovely weekend, and thanks for paying attention.