Undeterred by Titan submersible disaster, wealthy GOP backer hopes to demonstrate safety of personal submarine

Plus, the continued influence of conservative dark money.

Top Headlines

Ohio billionaire GOP donor wants to prove OceanGate disaster was anomaly

A retired real estate mogul from Ohio is partnering with Triton Submarines, a personal luxury submersible firm, to take a two-person sub to the wreckage site of the Titanic.

The announcement comes almost a year after Titan, another small submersible, went missing near the site and sparked an international news phenomenon. It was later revealed that the hull of the submersible imploded on itself and killed all five passengers, including OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush. 

But now, Larry Connor, a mega-rich deep sea fanatic, is hoping to demonstrate that such ventures are actually a safe adventure if the vessel is constructed properly. 

“I want to show people worldwide that while the ocean is extremely powerful, it can be wonderful and enjoyable and really kind of life-changing if you go about it the right way,” Connor, who has been both to the depths of the Mariana Trench and the heights of the International Space Station, told the Wall Street Journal.  

Connor will be joined by Patrick Lahey, the founder of Triton Submarines, in a two-person craft that they claim will be able to withstand the intense oceanic pressure of the Titanic’s resting place — which sits on the ocean floor at a depth of 12,400 feet. 

“Patrick has been thinking about and designing this for over a decade. But we didn’t have the materials and technology,” Connor continued. “You couldn’t have built this sub five years ago.” The submersible is expected to cost upwards of $20 million. 

Public records show that Connor is also a prolific donor to the GOP. He’s provided sizable donations to everyone from former House speakers like Paul Ryan and Newt Gingrich to MAGA superstars like Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). One of his more recent contributions was a $12,967 check for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s (R) reelection campaign. 

Eyes on the Right

The Federalist Society’s co-chair is pouring money into law schools in his effort to reorder the judiciary system. Leonard Leo, who was influential in the selection of all three of former President Donald Trump‘s Supreme Court picks, has spent years orchestrating over a billion dollars in dark money to various conservative causes — especially in an effort to support the ideology of “constitutional originalism.” 

Constitutional originalism is a fundamentalist view of America’s founding legal document that believes the text should be unaltered and unmoving, understood and abided by only within the context of which it was adopted in 1789. The theory has little support by those who study American legal scholarship. 

And according to new reporting by The Intercept, Leo successfully brokered a deal with Texas A&M University to create a “Center on the Structural Constitution” that would be an incubator for the legal theory, all in exchange for a lofty sum of a $15 million donation. 

Leo had turned to Texas A&M after his alma mater, Cornell University, considered but then ultimately declined a similar offer. 

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. One of Leo’s donation conduits, an organization called DonorsTrust, has been piping in money from a variety of affluent conservative philanthropists — including Leo. 

“Whether from Leo or other sources, conservative money has been already flowing to law schools via DonorsTrust for years, mostly to premiere programs,” The Intercept’s Shawn Musgrave wrote. 

“Since 2019, Yale Law School has received $250,000 per year for the “Diversity in Democracy Professorship Fund”....New York University Law School received $350,000 in 2021 and $300,000 in 2022 for a libertarian research institute. NYU also declined to provide additional details about the source of these contributions. And since 2020, Stanford’s student chapter of the Federalist Society received $25,000 per year.”

Such revelations come as Leo continues to ignore a subpoena in relation to a Senate investigation exploring how all-expenses-paid vacations for conservative justices like Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — funded by affluent conservatives — could be impacting rulings.

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Jamie Larson