Scalia was one of five justices who voted for the Citizens United ruling and subsequent rulings that allowed unlimited sums of unidentified money to be used in elections. So the anonymous $20 million gift, which was conditioned upon naming the law school after Scalia, truly honors the late justice’s legacy of allowing corporations and the wealthy to buy influence under a shroud of secrecy.
In a press release, George Mason University explained that the $20 million gift was funneled through Leonard Leo, the executive vice president of the ultra-conservative Federalist Society and a personal friend of Scalia. “The anonymous donor asked that the university name the law school in honor of the Justice,” according to the press release. This is just how anonymous donors ask for favors in exchange for their campaign contribution.
The Koch Brothers have plowed more funding into the university than any other school; The Atlantic recently called the college “effectively Charles Koch’s personal academic workshop”. Koch’s $10 million gift to the law school follows $48 million in other donations from 2011 to 2014, according to the Associated Press.
The cash supports George Mason research hubs like the free-market Mercatus Center. Mercatus research routinely shows up in papers from Koch-linked groups like Americans for Prosperity, and even in Republican-written legislation. The Mercatus board includes Richard Fink, an executive vice president of Koch Industries, as well as Charles Koch himself. Charles Koch also chairs the board of the George Mason Institute for Humane Studies, a separate libertarian think tank.
The Center for Media and Democracy’s SourceWatch identifies other links between the Mercatus Center and corporate money, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. It serves as the academic validator for right-wing ideas, much as Scalia served as the judicial conduit for such theories on the Supreme Court.
George Mason has undergone any number of transformations over the years. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights declared in 1971 that “George Mason College was conceived of, by, and for the white community of Northern Virginia and not for the entire Northern Virginia population.” Since Scalia observed last December that African-American students would be better off at “less advanced” colleges, the tribute to him at the formerly exclusionary George Mason also makes sense.
Over the years, George Mason transformed itself from a commuter school to a residential university, with its most recent, rapid growth fueled in part by money from conservative groups and individuals.
Its responsiveness to pro-corporate interests is hardly new. In the 1980s and 1990s, George Mason economist Robert Tollison led several programs on behalf of the tobacco industry, designed to provide intellectual support for their contention that second-hand smoke wasn’t harmful and government didn’t need to increase cigarette taxes. Hundreds of academics were paid by the tobacco industry for favorable comments, papers, and op-eds backing the industry line.
More recently, George Mason’s Law and Economics Center received $762,500 from Google over a two-year period, and subsequently produced multiple studies supporting Google’s positions on privacy, patents, and antitrust.
Justice Scalia’s reliable support for corporate America in a wide variety of cases makes him a fitting namesake for a law school there.
Author: David Dayen