TERRE HAUTE —
Terre Haute attorney James Bopp Jr., a nationally known advocate for conservative legal causes, is back in the news this week after a Washington watchdog group accused him of improperly benefiting from a not-for-profit entity.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — CREW — filed a number of complaints against Bopp on Tuesday, including allegations presented to the Internal Revenue Service, the Indiana Attorney General, the Indiana Secretary of State and the U.S. attorney for the southern district of Indiana.
Bopp believes CREW’s allegations are ideologically motivated.
“They’re in business to smear conservatives. They can’t debate them on the issues. They’d much rather destroy them,” he said.
A key allegation is that the Terre Haute-based James Madison Center for Free Speech, of which Bopp is the general counsel, is really just “an alter ego” for the Bopp law firm, said Melanie Sloan, CREW executive director, in an interview Wednesday with the Tribune-Star.
CREW alleges that Bopp has been “systematically diverting virtually all of the assets of the [James Madison Center] … to his own law firm. For each of the last six years, Mr. Bopp – as the sole manager of JMCFS, and operating unchecked by its board of directors – has transferred all of JMCFS’s funds to the Bopp Law Firm for his personal enrichment.”
She alleged that the transfers have totaled about $2.1 million.
In response, Bopp, reached Wednesday, said he was hired by the five-person governing board of the James Madison Center as its general counsel.
“Nobody disputes that our litigation is quintessential charitable activity,” Bopp said. “I’m the only one that does the work, so I’m the only one that gets paid.”
Bopp, who is preparing to argue his seventh case before the U.S. Supreme Court, was the legal mind behind the 2010 Citizens United case, which expanded political spending by corporations and labor unions under the First Amendment. He was recently named one of the top 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal.
“This group [CREW] is paid by George Soros to file complaints against conservative groups,” Bopp said.
(Soros is described by Wikipedia as a “Hungarian-American business magnate, investor, and philanthropist ... [and] a well-known supporter of progressive-liberal political causes. ...”)
Asked whether her group is nonpartisan, Sloan said CREW, does accept donations from a Soros organization, but she has never spoken with Soros nor taken instruction from his Open Society Foundations.
“Although Bopp claims that we just go after Republicans, we take violators where we find them and we go after both sides,” Sloan said.
CREW also accused Bopp of criminal violations, including making false statements on a tax return. In the James Madison Center’s tax documents, Bopp did not acknowledge giving money to an independent contractor, which Sloan believes Bopp was acting as.
“The [Bopp] law firm is not an independent contractor,” Bopp responded. “I am retained as the general counsel. The law firm is a sole proprietorship, so when they [the James Madison Center] hire me, they are hiring the law firm.”
CREW also alleges that the five-person board of the James Madison Center essentially never meets and permits Bopp to run the organization. Sloan points to an article published by Slate, an online magazine, in 2012 quoting Bopp stating he did not remember the last time the board actually met.
“That’s not true,” Bopp told the Tribune-Star. “She can’t point to that, ‘cause that’s not true. They [the Madison Center] hired me to handle the litigation and that’s what I do.”
Bopp also disputed that Wanda Franz, who is identified as the James Madison Center’s president on the center’s website, told Slate she is not the board president.
“She didn’t tell me that,” Bopp said. “I wish the newspapers always got everything right, I really do.”
In its allegations to the Indiana Attorney General, CREW states that the Madison Center has published press releases calling Bopp its “president,” although those releases were later pulled from the site, CREW alleges.
“I’ve never identified myself as the president,” Bopp responded. “I’m not the president, I’m the general counsel.”
Now that the complaints have been filed, the next step for CREW is to wait, Sloan said. It could take years before the various investigations are complete.
But Bopp argues that CREW has never had a success and is really only in the business of smearing political opponents. “None of their complaints have been successful in over a decade,” he said.
Sloan disputes that.
“We do have a decent track record,” Sloan said. “We’ve filed a lot of [Federal Election Commission] complaints that have been successful and we’ve filed a lot of complaints against members of Congress who are no longer in office because of their ethics problems. So actually we have a pretty good track record.”
For more information on the James Madison Center, visit its website at www.jamesmadisoncenter.org. For more information on CREW, visit its website at www.citizensforethics.org.
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org