AMNA NAWAZ: Last August, conservative activist Leonard Leo received the largest political donation of all time, $1.6 billion.
Before that, Leo was known for his role in reshaping the Supreme Court.
Now we're learning more about how he's using this massive pot of cash.
Our Lisa Desjardins has more.
LISA DESJARDINS: This is an example of so-called dark money, which isn't new, but has not been seen on this scale.
Here's how that worked.
First, a tycoon gave the $1.6 billion to a trust, Marble Freedom Trust, run by Leonard Leo.
The trust sends money to another fund with charitable 501(c)(3) status.
That, in turn, passes millions on to political and cultural groups.
None of that was public until it was reported by ProPublica and others last year.
ProPublica's latest story lays out how this cash is building a new kind of conservative universe.
Andrea Bernstein is one of the authors and joins me now.
Andrea, your team found some of the promotional videos that Leo is using, including this explaining his approach.
LEONARD LEO, Chairman, Teneo Network: I spent close to 30 years, if not more, helping to build the conservative legal movement.
And, at some point or another, I just said to myself, well, if this could work for law, why can't it work for lots of other areas of American culture and American life where things are really messed up right now?
LISA DESJARDINS: American culture, American life.
What's your reporting say he means right there?
ANDREA BERNSTEIN, ProPublica: So, what is so fascinating about Leonard Leo is, he's someone who sort of works behind the scenes, but was very much responsible, played a pivotal role in installing the 6-3 supermajority in the U.S. Supreme Court, the court that, of course, recently overturned Roe v. Wade, and made many other consequential decisions.
And Leonard Leo was critical in creating the network that enabled that to happen.
Now what he is looking to do is expand that outward, so it's not just talking about law, but talking about law and politics and culture and media and bringing conservative values to all of those areas, and creating a pipeline of individuals who can go and work in organizations, in government advancing conservative causes.
LISA DESJARDINS: What is your understanding of what his beliefs are?
What is his agenda or his hopes?
And is he affecting the overall conservative agenda?
ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Oh, absolutely.
I mean, almost everybody that I speak with, both people that oppose his views and those who support him, feel that he has been pivotal and key in creating a culture, for example, where it is much, much harder to obtain an abortion, where, in some states, it can be more difficult to vote, where he has promulgated ideas that pull back on federal regulation.
These are all causes that he supports, and many people do.
But he's been someone who has created a pipeline in the legal world of judges and lawyers that have pushed these ideas.
And now, as we reported and we found out, he has worked on this group called the Teneo Network, which is elevating people all across society to work for conservative ideas.
And given the influence he had in the legal world, and the fact that he has, now controls $1.6 billion, at least, in dark money, which was the largest political donation in U.S. history, this is someone to be taken seriously as someone who can really effect change in these areas.
LISA DESJARDINS: Leo's group did not want to comment for this story when we reached it today.
But speaking to other conservatives about this, they told me this is something that the left has been doing for a long time.
Is this new or different?
ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Well, one of the things that Leonard Leo has said is that he's doing this because he feels that the left is outrunning him.
But when we spoke to left-leaning groups, they admired the sort of holistic approach, that this was somebody who was really thinking and seeing soup to nuts about how to create a long-range agenda for conservative change.
And given the change that he's already made and been responsible for, we thought this was something that was very much worth taking seriously and watching as they move forward.
LISA DESJARDINS: What do you think all of this says about the future of dark money and politics in general?
ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Yes, everybody we spoke with for the story was sort of lamenting the way that systems have become broken, the way partisanship and just sort of division has seeped into the political system, and how difficult it is to combat that, because the sources of money are now so far removed from the people on the causes that they support.
And, of course, that's on both sides.
But one of the things that we know is that now here is Leonard Leo with this enormous political contribution and poised to continue his push to make big changes in American life.
LISA DESJARDINS: Someone to be taken seriously and an important topic that we all take seriously as well.
Andrea Bernstein, thank you so much for your time.
ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Thank you so much.
Always great to be with you.